MEXICALI/TIJUANA, Mexico (Reuters) – Dozens of Central American migrants who U.S. authorities separated from their children last year when they crossed the Mexican border entered the United States again on Saturday asking for refuge and to be reunited with their kids.
A Reuters witness said some 50 migrants entered the United States at the international border crossing from Mexicali, Mexico into Calexico, California, where they were met by agents from U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP).
Visibly nervous parents crossed the pedestrian bridge, some with children and carrying luggage, a Reuters witness said. They were accompanied by lawyers from immigration advocacy group Al Otro Lado.
“WE DID IT!!!! All of the parents are being processed by @CBP!!!! Thank you to the professional and humane officers who accepted them today and to everyone who came out to support,” Al Otro Lado said on Twitter.
The families, who arrived back in Mexico helped by Al Otro Lado, which means “On the Other Side,” hope to present their cases to U.S. authorities and be reunited with their children.
In a crackdown on illegal immigration by President Donald Trump’s administration, U.S. officials have separated thousands of children from migrant parents who crossed from Mexico into the United States. Many were placed in detention camps, and some were later sent to foster homes or to live with relatives.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ inspector general said in a January report that the administration began ramping up separations in 2017. They accelerated in 2018 after Trump implemented a “zero tolerance” policy to criminally prosecute and jail illegal border crossers.
Outrage over the policy led Trump to sign an executive order on June 20, 2018, reversing course.
“We are waiting here in Mexicali, we arrived early. God willing and our cases can be seen,” Joe Arteaga, a Honduran man separated from his 15-year old son last year, said before the crossing.
“I know it’s a big risk, but we hope for the best,” he added.
Families interviewed by Reuters last week in Tijuana said their children were now either with relatives or foster parents in the United States. They described their confusion when their kids were taken away by U.S. immigration officials last year.
“Every day I saw my son through a fence … One day, as he cried, he said ‘daddy they’re going to deport you,’” said Arnold Flores, a Honduran who said he fled his country after he was beaten and had his house burned down.
“That same day the officers called me, a defense attorney said something to me in English that I didn’t understand and I haven’t seen my son since,” he said.
Reporting by Cristian Torres and Lizbeth Diaz; Writing by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel