A Brazilian mom hopes a legal victory spares other undocumented immigrant parents from the pain she suffered by being separated from her son at the border in El Paso.
Jocelyn, who asked that her last name not be used, was a plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union seeking to stop the U.S. government from separating immigrant children from their parents.
"I joined this case to recover my son and so that what happened to me wouldn’t happen to other mothers," Jocelyn said in Spanish.
"I was there in jail for seven months. It was an injustice. I hope they take into account other mothers," she said Wednesday afternoon at a news conference at the Casa Vides immigrant shelter in Downtown El Paso.
On Tuesday evening, a federal judge in San Diego issued a nationwide preliminary injunction ordering U.S. immigration authorities to stop the practice and to reunite all separated families.
The court ruled that all children must be reunited with their parents within 30 days, children younger than 5 must be reunited within 14 days and all parents must be able to speak with their children within 10 days.
The ACLU said that the court also prohibited any deportation of parents without their children without a waiver. In the future, no child can be separated from a parent unless it is in the child’s best interest, such as in the case of abuse.
Separated From Her Son
Jocelyn said that she was separated from her 14-year-old son, James, for nine months and nine days. She and her son were stopped in August after illegally crossing the border near El Paso in a bid to seek asylum.
The lawsuit stated that Jocelyn was held at an El Paso immigration detention center in September and was moved in January to a detention facility in Sierra Blanca, Texas.
Her son was sent across the country to a shelter for unaccompanied immigrant children in Chicago.
While at the children's shelter, Jocelyn said that her son was given medication without her permission, possibly because of "the trauma when they separated him at the border."
Even after Jocelyn was released from an immigration detention center, it took her two months until she was reunited with her son June 5.
"When he arrived in El Paso, I saw that he wasn’t confident that he was free. He couldn’t believe that he was free," Jocelyn said.
Jocelyn and James are now staying at the Annunciation House immigrant shelter but still face immigration removal proceedings.
Casa Vides, where the news conference took place, is one of the shelters that Annunciation House operates.
The ACLU lawsuit also featured the case of a woman from the Congo who was separated from her 7-year-old daughter on the California border in November.
The woman was at a detention center in the San Diego area and her daughter was sent to a center for children in Chicago, according to the lawsuit.
'Babies Being Incarcerated'
The court ruling was a good thing but doesn't alleviate other concerns and does not mean that the fight to stop family separation is over, immigrant advocates said
There are fears that the government will start detaining entire families seeking asylum instead of releasing them on bond, said Taylor Levy, legal coordinator for Annunciation House.
"It's still babies being incarcerated," she said.
The majority of the 32 undocumented immigrant parents from Central America who arrived Sunday at Casa Vides have left El Paso, going to the U.S. homes of their sponsors, said Ruben Garcia, director of Annunciation House.
Garcia said that those parents still are trying to be reunited with their children. The immigrants have ankle monitors and have dates to appear in court.
El Paso was the "training ground" for the Trump administration's family separation policy, said Linda Rivas, executive director of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center and an immigration lawyer representing Jocelyn.
Local immigration lawyers and advocates had noticed the practice starting last summer before the zero-tolerance policy to prosecute all illegal border crossings was announced this year. In the practice, immigrant parents were sent to jail and their children were sent to shelters
"The trauma that this country has caused on children and on parents at this point is irreparable," Rivas said. "The damage has been done. It’s a stain on our country."