The one-year-old boy in a green button-up shirt drank milk from a bottle, played with a small purple ball that lit up when it hit the ground and occasionally asked for “agua.”
Then it was the child’s turn for his court appearance before a Phoenix immigration judge, who could hardly contain his unease with the situation during the portion of the hearing where he asks immigrant defendants whether they understand the proceedings.
“I’m embarrassed to ask it, because I don’t know who you would explain it to, unless you think that a one-year-old could learn immigration law,” Judge John Richardson told the lawyer representing the one-year-old boy.
The boy is one of hundreds of children who need to be reunited with their parents after being separated at the border, many of them split from mothers and fathers as a result of US Donald Trump’s administration’s “zero-tolerance policy.” The separations have become an embarrassment to the administration as stories of crying children separated from mothers and kept apart for weeks on end dominated the news in recent weeks.
Critics have also seized on the nation’s immigration court system that requires children — some still in diapers — to have appearances before judges and go through deportation proceedings while separated from their parents.
Such children do not have a right to a court-appointed attorney, and 90 percent of kids without a lawyer are returned to their home countries, according to Kids in Need of Defense, a group that provides legal representation.
In Phoenix on Friday, the Honduran boy named Johan waited over an hour to see the judge. His attorney told Richardson that the boy’s father had brought him to the US, but that they had been separated, although it was unclear when.
He said the father, who was now in Honduras, was removed from the country under false pretenses that he would be able to leave with his son.
For a while, the child wore dress shoes, but later he was in just socks as he waited to see the judge. He was silent and calm for most of the hearing, though he cried hysterically afterward for the few seconds that a worker handed him to another person while she gathered his diaper bag.
He is in the custody of the US Health and Human Services Department in Arizona.
Richardson said the boy’s case raised red flags over a looming court-ordered deadline to reunite small children with their families.
A federal judge in San Diego, California, gave the agency until tomorrow to reunite kids under five with their parents and until July 26 for all others.
Richardson repeatedly told the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) attorney who was acting as the prosecutor that he should make note of the cases involving young children because of the government’s obligation to meet the reunification deadline.
The attorney said he was not familiar with that deadline and that a different department within ICE handled such matters.
ICE spokeswoman Jennifer Elzea said the attorney was familiar with the injunction, but did not know the specifics of the timeline requirements off the top of his head “and did not want to misspeak about any timeline commitments without that knowledge.”
The agency’s Enforcement and Removal Operations is leading the review of cases who are a part of the class impacted by the judge’s order, while the rest of the agency is supporting them in the effort to complete it in as efficient and accurate a manner possible.
In the end, Johan was granted a voluntary departure order that would allow the government to fly him to Honduras so that he could be reunited with his family.
An attorney with the Florence Project, an Arizona-based nonprofit that provides free legal help to immigrants, said both his mother and father were in Honduras.
The boy’s case was heard on the same day that the Trump administration said it needed more time to reunite 101 children under five years old to ensure the children’s safety and to confirm their parental relationships.
The two sides had a hearing on the matter Friday in San Diego and will determine over the weekend which cases merit a delay.
US Department of Justice attorney Sarah Fabian told the judge that the government is deploying significant resources to ensure that children are being reunited with parents in timely fashion.
Around the same time as the San Diego hearing, other kids who had been separated from their parents made their way to court in Phoenix.
A boy from Guatemala dressed in a vest and tie was asked by the judge how old he was, and the child simply put five fingers up.
His attorney said his father had brought him to the country and had been returned two weeks ago to their home in Guatemala. He asked for a voluntary departure to be issued for the boy.
“What do you think about going back to Guatemala?” Richardson asked the boy.
The family separation issue is especially urgent for the parents of young children who are even more dependent on their mothers and fathers. Studies show that major stress at a very young age can create a lifetime of emotional and even physical problems.
Honduran immigrant Christian Granados has been separated from his five-year-old daughter Cristhy for more than a month after they were detained in El Paso, Texas, attempting to enter the US.
She was taken to a facility in Chicago, while he was released pending an asylum request on June 24.
He has been in the midst of one bureaucratic hassle after another in trying to get his daughter back, responding to intermittent requests for identification documents and biographical information from government social workers who are attending to his daughter.
Granados sought out a suitable home to help reclaim his child by moving in with relatives in Fort Mill, South Carolina, but now fears he will not be able to afford airfare for his girl to be reunited with him. He said authorities requested US$1,250 to fly her from Chicago.
“I haven’t felt the happiness I should feel with being here in the United States,” Granados said. “Happiness is when I have my daughter with me.”
For some separated families, the reunion will occur in Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador — the violence-plagued countries that many of them were fleeing.
A seven-year-old girl in a pink bow and dress sat patiently on a wooden bench for over an hour before Richardson called her. The girl had come to the US from Guatemala with her dad and had also been separated. The father was now back in Guatemala.
Richardson again told the ICE attorney to mark her case with a red flag to ensure the government reunites her with her family in time.
He asked the girl whether she wanted to go back to Guatemala and she had a fear of getting hurt there.
The girl said she was not afraid to go home, and Richardson granted her a voluntary departure.
FOX HUNT: To suppress dissent, Chinese living abroad that Xi Jinping sees as threats are told to either return to China or commit suicide, Christopher Wray said Chinese agents have been pursuing hundreds of Chinese nationals living in the US in an effort to force their return, as part of a global campaign against the country’s diaspora, known as Operation Fox Hunt, FBI Director Christopher Wray said on Tuesday. In a speech about the security threat posed by China, during which he said Beijing’s counterintelligence work was the “greatest long-term threat to our nation’s information and intellectual property, and to our economic vitality,” Wray gave the example of one Fox Hunt target who was given a choice of going back to China or killing themselves. Fox Hunt was launched
INTERNET CURBS: People are rushing to erase their digital footprints after police given powers over online activity, although it might take years for the full effect to be felt At midnight on Tuesday, the Great Firewall of China, the vast apparatus that limits the country’s Internet, appeared to descend on Hong Kong. Unveiling expanded police powers as part of contentious new national security legislation, the Hong Kong government enabled police to censor online speech, and force Internet service providers to hand over user information and shut down platforms. Many residents, already anxious since the legislation took effect last week, rushed to erase their digital footprint of any signs of dissent or support for the past year of protests. Hong Kong Legislator Charles Mok (莫乃光), a pro-democracy member of the Legislative
‘FIGHT FOR FREEDOM’: Hong Kongers will never bow to Beijing, the advocate said, while the US’ envoy to the territory called China’s new security law a ‘tragedy’ The world must stand in solidarity with Hong Kongers after Beijing imposed sweeping national security legislation on the semi-autonomous territory, advocate Joshua Wong (黃之鋒) said yesterday, vowing to continue campaigning for democracy. Wong, one of the territory’s most prominent young advocates and a figure loathed by Beijing, was speaking outside a court where he and fellow advocates are being prosecuted for involvement in last year’s pro-democracy protests. China last week enacted sweeping security legislation for the restless territory, banning acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. The legislation has sent a wave of fear through the territory, and criminalized dissenting
‘SUICIDE’: Media reports said Park Won-soon went missing on Thursday after a staff member filed a sexual harassment claim against him this week Seoul mayor Park Won-soon, viewed as a potential candidate for the 2022 presidential election, was found dead of an apparent suicide hours after he was reported missing, police said, adding that he was the subject of an undisclosed investigation. In a note he is thought to have left behind on his desk, Park offered his apologies. “I thank everyone who was with me in my life. I apologize to my family for only making them suffer from pain,” according to the note that was released by his office yesterday. Park, in his letter, asked to be cremated and have his remains spread