This Family Reunification Story Will Make You Cry, Just Accept That, OK?
In March, the Biden administration announced it would allow deported parents of children taken under Donald Trump's family separation policy to come to the US and be reunified with their kids. This week, it finally became real for a first group of families, just four parents, but with many more to come. Among the parents who got to see their kids again for the first time in years was a woman from Honduras, Keldy Mabel Gonzáles Brebe de Zúniga, whose reunion with the boys taken from her in 2017 is covered in this excellent New Yorker piece by Jonathan Blitzer. If you have any free New Yorker stories left this month, it's well worth reading.
It's just and good that on Tuesday, Gonzáles Brebe became one of the first parents to be reunited with their kids, because she was also among the first to have had her kids taken from her in the test run of family separation. It was all part of the glorious plan by John Kelly and Stephen Miller to terrorize migrants so they'd decide the Land Of The Free was a greater threat than staying in their home countries.
Gonzáles Brebe and her two middle sons, then 13 and 15, made their way through the desert into New Mexico in September 2017, and immediately turned themselves in to Border Patrol. But after a day and a half, without giving her the chance to claim asylum, Border Patrol agents handcuffed her and took her off to be prosecuted for her crime, a misdemeanor count of illegal entry. And since she was now an accused criminal, her sons Mino and Erick were sent off to a shelter for unaccompanied minors, because after all, their mother was a scary criminal who'd "smuggled" them into the USA, as Jeff Sessions would put it when he announced the formal zero tolerance policy a few months later.
The family had fled Honduras after being victims of gang violence, and by the time Gonzáles Brebe came to the border, her husband and oldest son had already come to the US. Other family members were all over the continent. She certainly thought she had a solid case for asylum:
Gonzáles Brebe had come to the U.S. with news clippings, official complaints, police reports, and notarized documents attesting to why she had to flee Honduras. Local hitmen had killed four of her brothers. She had witnessed the last murder, in 2012, and testified against the killers in open court. Ensuing threats forced her family into hiding for the next five years.
She passed the initial "credible fear of persecution" screening, but under the Trump policy of ending "catch and release," she was kept in ICE detention until her case came up. Once she went before an immigration judge in May of 2018, Gonzáles Brebe was out of luck. She didn't have an attorney, and the judge rejected her claim and ordered her deported, without even hearing her evidence. Notes Blitzer, "Only later did she learn that this particular judge rejected roughly ninety per cent of all the asylum cases that came before him." No doubt Trump and company were displeased that the judge granted an enormous 10 percent of applicants' requests.
From detention, Gonzáles Brebe
typed out a plea to an official who was in charge of overseeing the timing and paperwork of her eventual deportation. "Señor deportador," she began. "The judge has denied my asylum claim because he says I don't have evidence and that I'm lying." Nearly nine months without her children, she said, was making her ill, and each day she was "getting worse." She printed out the letter, and then, with a pen, drew a circle around two sentences, for emphasis: "What is it that you all need for someone to get asylum? Do I have to come here injured or dead?"
But she lost her case, which proves to the anti-asylum crowd that all asylum claims are fake.
But now, under a new president who appointed a task force to reunite all the families that remain separated, Gonzáles Brebe has been allowed into the US with "humanitarian parole" status. She'll be allowed to work, and won't face deportation for at least three years. She can apply to renew that status, but obviously, activists working to redress the horrors of the New Cruelty are calling for a more permanent fix, starting with a green card, and ideally a pathway to citizenship. The exact form that redress will take is still being negotiated by the government with the ACLU and other groups. The administration seems genuinely committed to doing what it can to make up for Trump's cruelty, according to Blitzer:
On Tuesday, the Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, told me that this week's reunifications were "a source of pride, because it's just the beginning." I was struck, while we talked, that he kept referring to the separated parents and their children as "victims." The implication was that the previous Administration had deliberately mistreated them, which raised questions of redress. "We recognize that we need to do more, that humanitarian parole does not provide a stable basis to remain in the U.S. for an extended period of time," he said. "We're looking at the legal authorities that we have."
That's also likely to include, at a minimum, help with medical and mental health care, and possibly some form of financial compensation.
But look at this reunion, at the Philadelphia home of one of Gonzáles Brebe's nieces. She wanted her arrival to be a surprise, so her niece and her husband told the other family members that they were gathering to be interviewed about the case by an Australian film crew that's making a documentary about their plight. The film crew was on hand, but so was mom:
And now similar scenes can start happening again and again, until, we hope, all the families are back together. It's not enough to make up for the trauma our country has inflicted, but it's a start, at least.
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.