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Attempting to make the court deadline, immigrant families reunited across the country

July 26, 2018 GMT

“Forgive me.”

Those were the first words Sandra Elizabeth Sanchez told her daughter when they reunited after being separated for more than a month.

“Forgive me because I didn’t know what was coming,” she told her daughter. “I didn’t want you to suffer. That wasn’t my intention.”

Sanchez still gripped the wrinkled, tear-stained napkin immigration officials had given her just before she reunited with her 15-year-old daughter Thursday morning at Catholic Charities of San Antonio.

They arrived in the wee hours of the morning on the day of the court-mandated deadline for reunifying all families that had been separated under President Donald Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy.

Related: RAICES launches hotline to help reunite immigrant families

As of Tuesday evening, 61 percent, or 1,012, of eligible parents had been reunited with their children in the past few weeks. That left the government about 48 hours to reunite the remaining 39 percent.

Of the 382 parents represented by the Texas Civil Rights Project, 73 have been reunited and released and 26 reunited but held in family detention facilities as of Thursday. At least six parents had been deported without their children, and 202 have left ICE custody but the group’s lawyers don’t know of their whereabouts.

As of Wednesday night, Catholic Charities of San Antonio had helped a total of 53 recently reunified families, with a handful more arriving overnight.

In McAllen, more than 450 families had been reunited by Wednesday night, with more than 50 family members arriving at San Pedro Cathedral overnight.

Neither location had been given a heads up of how many immigrants to expect Thursday, which both said was unusual. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officials had been notifying them each morning of how many families to expect that day since the reunification process had begun.

The Texas nonprofits don’t know how many families will walk through their doors today.

Democratic lawmakers were hopeful, but skeptical, that the reunifications of the 2,551 separated children would occur on time. The government was two days late in meeting the previous deadline of July 10, which was for children under 5 years old. And that was after deeming that only about half of the identified 103 separated children were eligible for reunification.

San Antonio was selected as one of four reunification hubs, with the others being McAllen, El Paso and Phoenix.

Related: Catholic Charities kicks into high gear for immigrant families

Many families arriving in San Antonio were reunited in vans just outside the Pearsall detention center.

Sanchez said she and her had come to the United States, following the steps of her son and another daughter, in order to escape from the violence and “bad people” in her home country of Honduras.

She crossed the border June 18, just three days after her daughter’s 15th birthday. She said they had bought a little birthday “pastelito” for her during their journey through Mexico.

They were separated immediately after they were apprehended in Eagle Pass, about 140 miles southwest of San Antonio, she said.

The mother and daughter were unable to communicate during that time, she said. Her 15-year-old, Christhel Nohelia Barahona Sanchez, was at Casa Presidente in Brownsville. Sanchez was transferred from Val Verde Detention Facility to one or two other detention centers before arriving at the South Texas Detention Center in Pearsall, about 55 miles away from San Antonio..

“I suffered so much,” Sanchez said, tears streaming down her face. “I just kept waiting for the day to see my daughter again.”

Sanchez and her daughter don’t have a lawyer, and she said she hadn’t had her credible fear interview, one of the first steps in the process to seeking political asylum in the United States.

Now they’re headed to Washington, where her older daughter and three grandchildren live.

“I’m so happy,” Sanchez said. “Now that I have her.”

Silvia Foster-Frau is a staff writer in the San Antonio and Bexar County area. Read her on our free site, mySA.com, and on our subscriber site, ExpressNews.com. | sfosterfrau@express-news.net | Twitter: @SilviaElenaFF