After spending several hours at the U.S.-Mexico border with attorneys and immigrant rights advocates on Saturday, 29 parents separated from their children then deported under President Donald Trump's so-called "zero tolerance" policy were allowed to take a crucial step toward applying for asylum and reuniting with their kids.
Families Belong Together, a coalition that formed in response to the cruel policy that Trump rolled back after international outrage, announced on Twitter late Saturday that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) had begun processing the parents. As the coalition said, "This is a great step—but we also need to keep the pressure on to ensure they make it through and are reunited with their children in the U.S."
Unbelievable work by advocates on the ground who never stopped fighting for these parents and kids. We stand with you, ready to continue the fight until these families are whole. #ReunifyFamilies @AlOtroLado_Org @togetherrising @fams2gether https://t.co/FKgShnYRNs
— Rep. Joe Kennedy III (@RepJoeKennedy) March 3, 2019
The last families are being allowed in. Thank you to everyone who joined today on the ground and in solidarity. https://t.co/khkxHuOkaD
— Families Belong Together (@fams2gether) March 3, 2019
The news came after "the group of parents quietly traveled north over the past month, assisted by a team of immigration lawyers who hatched a high-stakes plan to reunify families," as the Washington Post reported. "Now, they will pose a significant test to the embattled American asylum system, arguing that they deserve another chance at refuge in the United States, something rarely offered to deportees."
Outlining what led to the current situation, the Post explained:
Before the Trump administration, families had never been systematically separated at the border. And before Saturday, those families had never returned to the border en masse.
More than 2,700 children were separated from their families along the border last year, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. About 430 of the parents were deported without their children, and at least 200 of them remain separated today. Some waited in the hope that U.S. courts would allow them to return to the United States. Others paid smugglers to get them back to the border. Then came Saturday's confrontation.
The parents are from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Collectively, they have 27 children who are living in the United States in shelters or foster homes, or with relatives. Ahead of the confrontation in Mexicali on Saturday, the group spent three weeks at a hotel in Tijuana, Mexico to prepare for asylum hearings.
"They're standing right at the border, preparing to reenter a system that traumatized their families months earlier," Lindsay Toczylowski, executive director of the Immigrant Defenders Law Center, who counseled the parents in Tijuana, told the Post before the parents crossed into the United States. "It says a lot about what they're fleeing, and what they lost."
As the parents arrived at the U.S. border with advocates, those supporting them in the fight to reunite their families urged critics of Trump's anti-immigrant policies to contact CBP—an agency under Department of Homeland Security (DHS)—to pressure federal officials to allow the parents entry into the country. For hours, CBP agents claimed they did not have the capacity to process their parents, according to the advocacy groups.
Let's do this.
Tweet @CBP to demand they allow parents to apply for asylum so they can be reunited with their children.
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— RAICES (@RAICESTEXAS) March 2, 2019
Hey @CBP, there is no legal justification for turning away asylum seekers. @DHSgov's refusal to process asylum applications of parents who were deported w/out their children is criminal, immoral & keeps separated children crying, scared & awake at night #ReunifyFamilies #Mexicali
— Mariam (@mariamiskajyan) March 2, 2019
Multiple congressional Democrats added their voices to the chorus demanding that the parents be allowed to submit asylum claims.
As a father, I am outraged that this Administration is prolonging the separation of families. We need to stop the trauma now. Children should be with their parents. #ReunifyFamilies https://t.co/QPcm1vSIzj
— Raul Ruiz (@CongressmanRuiz) March 2, 2019
.@CBP the least you can do after traumatizing children by separating them from their families is to allow their parents to access the LEGAL asylum process they are seeking & #ReunifyFamilies. We need answers from @SecNielsen at this upcoming Wednesday’s @DHSgov committee hearing. https://t.co/o4opIEuQKl
— Nanette D. Barragán (@RepBarragan) March 2, 2019
The horrors of family separation continue. Parents deported without their children deserve to have their precious children back and have every legal right to request asylum. https://t.co/QUUZlElYRC
— Rep. Veronica Escobar (@RepEscobar) March 3, 2019
I am heartbroken that the same country that welcomed my family and me is separating children from their families and loved ones so cruelly. Seeking asylum is legal, and families belong together. #ReunifyFamilies https://t.co/pCViBOzGFi
— Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (@RepDMP) March 2, 2019
After CBP began allowing the parents in, rights advocates celebrated but also emphasized that there is a long road ahead for these and other families torn apart on the president's orders. They vowed to continue aiding the parents as their asylum claims move forward but also encouraged voters to contact their members of Congress with concerns about Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), another DHS agency that has been widely criticized over its treatment of detained migrants.
After 9 hours at the border our families are being processed in! We did it!
STILL! Call your representatives. Don’t let @ICEgov detain and brutalize them—they ALL have sponsors.
— Ricardo Gutiérrez (@icaito) March 3, 2019