Mom demands release of daughter separated at border crossing
BOSTON (AP) — A Guatemalan woman seeking asylum in the U.S. is suing for the release of her 8-year-old daughter from federal custody, after the two were forcibly separated after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.
Angelica Rebeca Gonzalez-Garcia said Wednesday her daughter is fearful and lonely, having been bruised by another child and dealt with a fever and pink eye (conjunctivitis) since being detained. She’s even had to celebrate her eighth birthday among complete strangers, the 31-year-old mother said.
“I’m desperate. I’m pleading. I want my daughter back with me,” she said, speaking through tears in the office of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, which is representing her in the case. “She’s a little girl. She hasn’t done anything wrong.”
The ACLU and two Boston-area law firms say they’ve filed an emergency lawsuit to immediately reunite Gonzalez-Garcia with her daughter, who is only identified in court filings by the initials S.K. They argue that the continued separation violates the family’s due process rights, as well as the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection.
The suit is among dozens filed across the country since President Donald Trump signed an executive order last week ending his administration’s practice of separating migrant children from their parents.
Among the other Massachusetts cases is Lidia Karine Souza, a Brazilian woman who filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday demanding the release of her 9-year-old son, who’s been detained in Chicago since last month.
The Massachusetts ACLU’s lawsuit also comes after a federal judge in San Diego, in a separate case brought by the ACLU, ruled Tuesday that any migrant children separated from their parents must be returned to their families within 30 days.
Gonzalez-Garcia said Wednesday she and her daughter were apprehended after crossing the border in Arizona and were quickly sent to separate detention facilities.
She said through a translator that a guard, in a mocking voice, wished her “Happy Mother’s Day” when he delivered the news just days before the May 13 holiday.
Her daughter ended up in a shelter in Harlingen, Texas, while Gonzalez-Garcia was sent to Colorado, where she was eventually released by an immigration judge pending her asylum case. She has since settled with friends in Framingham, Massachusetts.
Gonzalez-Garcia says it took nearly two weeks before she was allowed to speak with her daughter. Since then, they’ve only spoken four other times.
Her lawyer, Susan Church, says federal authorities have deemed that Gonzalez-Garcia’s daughter is an “unaccompanied minor,” so in order for the two be reunited, Gonzalez-Garcia must apply to be her legal sponsor, which requires fingerprinting and other screening measures that could take weeks to process.
“They’re being separated for most evil, bureaucratic reasons,” Church said. “This is a life altering traumatic event. Every day that goes by without these two reunited is adding to the trauma of this child.”
Federal agencies named in the lawsuit, including the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, didn’t immediately comment.