By Greg Ryan – Law and Money Reporter, Boston Business Journal July 6, 2018, 4:51am
The stories of the Trump administration separating immigrant children from their parents have saddened and angered millions of Americans. But on Thursday, one of those children was reunited with her mother at Boston’s Logan Airport after nearly two months — and two local law firms had a hand in making it happen.
Boston corporate law firm Nixon Peabody LLP and Cambridge immigration specialist Demissie & Church represent Angelica Gonzalez-Garcia, a Guatemalan woman who arrived to the U.S. border in Arizona with her seven-year-old daughter around May 9, according to a lawsuit filed against the federal government on her behalf. Gonzalez-Garcia was seeking asylum in the U.S. Her daughter's name is not included in the complaint.
When they arrived in the country, she and her daughter were arrested by U.S. Custom and Border Protection, the lawsuit said. Initially they were held together in a detention center, but the next day Gonzalez-Garcia was told she would be separated from her daughter, the suit said.
An officer allegedly said “Happy Mother’s Day” to Gonzalez-Garcia when delivering the news. Mother’s Day was only a few days away.
Government officials transferred Gonzalez-Garcia to a detention center in Colorado, while they sent her daughter to one in Texas, according to the lawsuit. An immigration judge released Gonzalez-Garcia from detention on June 19 after she applied for asylum, the suit said. She then headed to Framingham to stay with friends, but her daughter remained in a detention center. After they were separated, Gonzalez-Garcia was only able to speak with her daughter by phone. Her daughter spent her birthday in a detention facility and would beg Gonzalez-Garcia to get her out of the shelter, the suit said.
Enter Nixon Peabody and Demissie & Church. Gonzalez-Garcia reached out to the ACLU of Massachusetts and the Demissie firm once she was in Massachusetts for help reuniting with her daughter, and Nixon Peabody came onboard soon afterward, according to Ronaldo Rauseo-Ricupero, one of two Nixon Peabody lawyers who worked on the case pro bono, or free of charge. Nixon Peabody had experience handling immigration matters in federal court.
The firms filed the lawsuit on Gonzalez-Garcia’s behalf in federal court in Boston on June 27, seeking the immediate release of the daughter into Gonzalez-Garcia’s custody. Besides Rauseo-Ricupero, Nixon’s Julia Lippman and the Demessie firm’s Susan Church, Heather Yountz and Brittanie Allen worked on the case.
A judge never made a ruling in the case, however. On the Fourth of July, Gonzalez-Garcia got word her daughter would return to her.
“Without the lawsuit, we’re confident that unfortunately, we wouldn’t be able to force a strong result from the government,” Rauseo-Ricupero said. “It was an important factor in the government deciding to expedite her release.”
After the lawsuit was filed, Gonzalez-Garcia’s case won national media attention, in particular the government official’s alleged “Happy Mother’s Day” remark.
Mother and daughter were reunited when Gonzalez-Garcia’s daughter took a flight to Logan on Thursday afternoon. For Rauseo-Ricupero, who typically defends companies and executives facing government investigations, the day was one of his high points as a lawyer, he said.
“It was one of the most rewarding moments of my career,” he said after watching the mother and daughter embrace after nearly two months apart. “Seeing that, and knowing that I had the smallest part in helping have that finally come to an end for Ms. Gonzalez-Garcia, was a truly rewarding moment.”