Salvadoran Father Reunited With 2 Young Boys

Jul 12, 2018
Originally published on July 12, 2018 10:13 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

All right. The Department of Homeland Security announced this morning that the reunification of children under age 5 with their families has been completed. Now, that is not exactly what it might sound like. This is based on, quote, “court-approved criteria.” Fifty-seven kids were placed with family but 46 others were not, reportedly, largely due to safety concerns. There were cases where parents had a criminal history or had been deported. One parent who was reunited with his children was a Salvadoran father who had been kept from his two children for eight months. From member station KPBS, Jean Guerrero reports.

JEAN GUERRERO, BYLINE: Jose Demar Fuentes wept as he saw his two sons for the first time in eight months on a San Diego sidewalk. Five-year-old Andree ran into his father's arms. But 1-year-old Mateo didn't recognize his dad.

MATEO FUENTES: (Crying).

OLIVIA CACERES: (Speaking Spanish).

GUERRERO: His mother, Olivia Caceres, tried to coax him into remembering. Close to 3,000 children have been separated from their parents, mostly after the Trump administration implemented a zero-tolerance policy toward illegal border crossings. On June 20, the family separation policy was ended after public outcry. The administration said repeatedly that the policy to separate children from parents was designed to uphold the country's laws and defend the border.

But Fuentes never broke any laws. He asked for asylum at the port of entry last November. One-year-old Mateo was taken from his father after that request for asylum when both were in San Diego. Mateo was sent to a now-closed tender age facility in Texas. Two months later, he was sent to his mother in Los Angeles. Mateo's mother, Olivia, entered the U.S. with Mateo's brother, Andree, a few weeks after Fuentes and Mateo crossed. She asked for asylum and was released with Andree. KPBS visited the family in Los Angeles shortly after Mateo was returned.

MATEO: (Crying).

CACERES: (Through interpreter) He's been really fearful. When he sees strangers, he thinks they're going to take him. He just grabs me. (Speaking Spanish).

GUERRERO: She says the boy was covered in lice and grime when the government returned him to her. The ACLU lawsuit that led to the court order on reunifications didn't include children already released on parole to other relatives. But Fuentes' attorney Erika Pinheiro says her repeated requests for release on parole were denied until she cited the court order.

ERIKA PINHEIRO: I just really didn't have any justification for the separation or his continued detention.

GUERRERO: Attorney Pinheiro says the family's struggle isn't over.

PINHEIRO: The family suffered extreme and irreparable harm due to the actions of the agency.

GUERRERO: Like the dozens of other families reunited by this week's deadline, the family was released with GPS-tracking ankle devices. They are now awaiting immigration hearings. For NPR News, I'm Jean Guerrero in San Diego.

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