Families separated at Mexico border ask for residency, aid

Claudia Torrens
Associated Press

New York — Several parents who were separated from their children on the U.S.-Mexico border during former President Donald Trump’s administration on Friday asked the Homeland Security Secretary for permanent legal residency in the United States and compensation, said the mother of two of the children.

Keldy Mabel Gonzales Brebe, who was separated from two sons in the fall of 2017, said a group of parents made the request during a virtual meeting with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. She said she explained her story to Mayorkas and told him that she fears her temporary status in the U.S. might end one day and her family being torn apart again. 

“We don’t want to be separated from our kids again, after we fought for them so hard. We suffered too much,” said the Honduran immigrant after the meeting. 

Gonzales Brebe, who now lives with her sons in Philadelphia, has been granted humanitarian parole, which allows her to remain in the country for three years. 

Family Reunification Task Force Director Michelle Brané told the AP after the meeting that the government will look at “all the options” until it finds a solution for these families. 

“The Secretary was clear in expressing to the families that we have an obligation to support them and that we are doing everything we can to get them support, to look at ways of providing them with the permanent status. We may need legislative support for that,” Brané said. 

The meeting was hosted by the Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project.

During his administration, Trump imposed extraordinary measures to limit asylum, including the criminal prosecution of everyone who entered the United States illegally from Mexico, which resulted in the separation of thousands of children from their parents. 

The Biden administration said in June that it had identified more than 3,900 children separated from their parents under Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy on illegal crossings. The exact number, however, changes often as new cases are added or others are inaccurate. 

Many children have since been reunited with a parent, and the Biden administration has promised to reunite parents who are still apart from their children. According to the government, to date, the task force has reunited 47 families and a total of 120 total people in the U.S. This breakdown includes: 47 children, 40 parents, and 33 household members. 

Gonzales Brebe, 37, fled Honduras to escape gangs, which had threatened her. She crossed the border with her youngest son Erick, now 17, and her middle child Mino, now 19, in the fall of 2017. 

They were separated at the border in New Mexico and the boys were moved to a shelter for minors and later released to family members in Philadelphia. Gonzales Brebe was kept in a detention facility in El Paso, Texas, for a year and a half and then deported to Honduras in January 2019.

She immediately traveled back north and settled in Mexico, waiting for a chance to enter the United States. In May, she was reunited with her sons. 

On Friday, she said she felt upbeat after the meeting with Mayorkas. 

“Every parent told his or her story and the Secretary promised to provide a better situation for us,” she said. “I know we can get that done.”

The meeting happened weeks after Homeland Security said it resumed deportation flights to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador for families subject to “expedited removal,” a process by which people can be removed from the country without seeing an immigration judge.

The U.S. government also this month renewed emergency powers to expel families at the border due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The number of people stopped on the border in family groups is expected to hit a record for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, said David Shahoulian, assistant secretary for border and immigration policy at DHS. 

On Friday, Homeland Security said after the meeting that Mayorkas and Brané “acknowledged the pain and trauma” that families separated under the “zero-tolerance” policy endured.

“The Secretary was clear in recognizing our responsibility,” said Brané. “He apologized to the families for what the government did and is dedicated to supporting them as they move forward with their lives, recognizing that the harm cannot be undone, and that some of the emotional scars will stay with them. He encouraged them to move forward and committed to helping them to do so.”