These migrant parents no longer face charges. But they say the damage is done.
Miriam says she didn’t have a chance to say a word to her 4-year-old son before he was taken from her at the US-Mexico border.
It was dawn and he was fast asleep, she said. They were detained the night before in El Paso, Texas. The moment someone told her to dress him was when she learned they were going to be separated. He was still asleep when they put him on a truck and drove away, she said.
When she was finally able to reach him Monday by phone in New York, she says he refused to speak to her. CNN was unable to confirm how much time had passed since their separation. But as Miriam tells it, it was long enough to make an impression on him.
“He’s mad at me,” she said, tears in her eyes. “He thinks that I abandoned him.”
After arresting Miriam and separating her from her son, the government withdrew charges against her and released her from detention, according to an El Paso advocacy group that’s helping reunite families.
Annunciation House said it interviewed 32 people, including Miriam, whose charges were withdrawn. They were released from detention with ankle monitors while they await immigration proceedings.
Legal coordinator Taylor Levy released details about the 32 adults the organization interviewed:
34 — Average age of parent
10 — Average age of child
25 — Average days in detention
The longest stay was 40 days. The shortest was nine days.
3 — The number of parents who have personally spoken to their children since separation
29 — The number of parents who have not personally spoken to their children since separation
They came from three countries: El Salvador (6%), Guatemala (31%), Honduras (63%).
Five of those people, including Miriam, shared their accounts in a Monday news conference organized by the faith-based charity.
Their releases came after President Donald Trump signed an order to keep families together while maintaining a “zero tolerance” policy toward illegal entry prosecutions. The order led federal prosecutors to announce they would not pursue charges in cases involving families that could not be housed together.
The adults, identified by their first names only, may no longer face criminal charges for the time being. But they said the experience has already left lasting emotional and psychological scars on them and their children.
Two of the men used the Spanish word “dañado” to describe their feelings — damaged, broken or hurt.
“I am so dañado for what has happened to me that it is hard for me to say anything,” Melvin said. It’s been a month since he last heard from or spoke to his 17-year-old son, he said.
‘If we were criminals, we wouldn’t carry our children with us’
Iris said it took 15 days for her to make it to the border with her son from Honduras. When she arrived, she said the first thing she was told was that she was going to be arrested and face charges.
“You are considered a criminal to the United States,” she said she was told.
It was her son’s sixth birthday, she said. He was with her when she learned the news. She believes he started to cry because he knew what would come next.
“We are not criminals; we are just people who want an opportunity for a better life,” she said. “If we were criminals, we wouldn’t carry our children with us.”
She was one of two parents at the news conference who said they asked if there was anything they could do to avoid being separated from their children. Asked if they were offered the option of voluntary deportation, at least three of the adults said no.
In fact, when Iris asked if she and her child could be deported together she said she was told no.
She would go to jail and her son would go to a shelter. She could do it the easy way or the hard way, she said she was told.
She said her son is in Arizona, but she doesn’t know where. She has not been able to talk to him, she said.
“My message to the President for now is, ‘I hope that God forgives you for what you have done to all the parents. This is very cruel.’ ”
‘I came to this country in search of a better future’
Mario said his daughter turned 10 Monday and he had hoped to call her for her birthday. But he has been unable to reach her through the phone number authorities provided him.
“I am more than dañado because, to be honest, I don’t know anything about my daughter,” he said.
He appeared before reporters Monday with a plea for help:
“They gave us a number to call to get in touch with our children, but we keep calling and no one answers. I want to take the opportunity to ask the people in charge to please contact us to let us know where our children are.”
He, too, said he was shocked to learn upon arriving from Honduras that he would be arrested. His daughter cried and begged to stay with him, he said. He asked the officers why they would arrest him for trying to protect her and offer her a better future.
“I told them that they shouldn’t separate me from her because I came to this country in search of a better future,” he said.
‘Dad, you’re going to jail and I’m going I don’t know where’
Christian could barely speak of his 5-year-old daughter without breaking down. He said he came from Honduras in search of a better life for her.
When officials separated them, the little girl tried to comfort her father by telling him she wouldn’t be mad at him. But she also said something else that made him tear up in front of the cameras.
“Dad, you’re going to jail and I’m going I don’t know where,” he said, quoting his daughter.
She’s in Chicago now, he said, and he has spoken to her on the phone. She still maintains an understanding outlook for the future, he said.
“She said as long as we could be together, she would be happy.”