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Guatemalan woman and her 8-year-old were separated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection
At an emotional press conference at the ACLU Boston offices last Wednesday, Angelica Rebeca Gonzalez-Garcia described the May encounter with U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Arizona that resulted in her losing her 8-year-old daughter as they fled Guatemala in search of asylum in Massachusetts.
Gonzalez-Garcia was eventually released from the immigration detention center on June 19, but in a cruel twist, in keeping with the tenor of the times, the U.S. government is delaying reuniting the mother and daughter for bureaucratic reasons.
“The government is refusing to reunite Angelica’s daughter with her mother because of fingerprints that they already have,” said Gonzalez-Garcia’s attorney, Susan Church, referring to Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s demands that Gonzalez-Garcia provide her fingerprints.
“She’s just a little girl, she has done nothing wrong, why are they punishing her? Why won’t they return her to me?” said Gonzalez-Garcia in Spanish, in between tears.
The ACLU filed an emergency motion last week to reunite Gonzalez-Garcia with her daughter, with support from the law firms Demissie & Church and Nixon Peabody.
Gonzalez-Garcia, who left Guatemala to escape violence, discrimination and domestic abuse, and is currently awaiting asylum hearing, recounted her harrowing experience being detained by immigration and having an immigration official mock her as they took her daughter away with a group of other children who were also detained with their parents at the border.
“The official said to me in a mocking voice, ‘In your country, do they celebrate Mother’s Day?’ and I said ‘Yes’ and he said, ‘Well, happy Mother’s Day,’” she said. “They told me they were going to take my daughter away and I would not be seeing her again.”
Gonzalez-Garcia said she was eventually transported to another detention center in Colorado, and despite her attempts to contact ICE, she had no information about her daughter’s whereabouts for two weeks. She said she has only spoken to her daughter, who is being kept in a shelter in Texas, a total of five times since the separation.
Church said that in an ACLU preliminary injunction, it was ordered that the government agencies talk to each other to streamline the process of returning immigrant families with one another. However, bureaucratic red tape is what is preventing Gonzalez-Garcia from seeing her daughter again.
“Her fingerprints were taken by Customs and Border Protection, they have them on file,” said Church. “Yet, they’re requiring a totally different government agency, the Office of Refugee Resettlement, to retake her fingerprints.”
She continued, “The earliest possible date they gave her, before an attorney became involved, was July 31. Can you imagine the level of incompetence of this administration to think it’s okay to keep a mother and a daughter apart for prints they already have?”
Even with a lot of fighting, Church said, the earliest date she was able to obtain for her client to retake her fingerprints was July 16, all the way in Newark, New Jersey.
The Gonzalez-Garcia v. Sessions filing urges an immediate hearing for reunification under the Due Process clause of the Fifth Amendment. “We hope that the federal district court of Massachusetts recognizes that every day that goes by without these two reunited is adding to the trauma to this child,” said Church.
Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, reflected on the current state of U.S. immigration and the current administration’s tactics that are impacting immigrant families across the nation.
“In response to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU in San Diego, a federal judge ordered the reunification of thousands of children and parents who were forcibly separated by the Trump administration. As the judge wrote, ‘The unforgivable reality is that under the present system, migrant children are not accounted for with the same efficiency and accuracy as property,’” said Rose.
She continued, “So the report said all children must be reunited with their families and parents within 30 days. However, if you are a parent like I am, if you know your child is suffering, every minute can feel like an eternity. When your child is sick, scared or alone, every minute feels like an eternity.”