Parted at U.S. border by Trump policy,
migrants seek their children
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[June 23, 2018]
By Kristina Cooke and Richard Cowan
SAN FRANCISCO/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lilian
Merida-Galicia and her 7-year-old daughter were apprehended after
crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona and separated by U.S.
officials in mid-May.
Since then, the 23-year-old Guatemalan has been trying to learn her
daughter's whereabouts, according to her attorney, Michael Avenatti. At
one point she sent a note to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
“Please could you send me a phone number so that I can communicate with
my daughter?” read the note, which was written in Spanish and seen by
An ICE officer replied in a note in English: “I do not have this
Merida-Galicia, who is being held in California, is just one of many
incarcerated immigrant mothers whose attorneys tell similar stories
about chaotic situations in which the mothers don't know where their
children have been taken or how to contact them. The mothers themselves
could not be contacted because access to detained immigrants is
Although President Donald Trump abruptly reversed course on Wednesday
following a wave of outrage at home and overseas and abandoned his
policy of separating children from parents who are apprehended for
illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, the fate of the more than
2,300 children already separated from their parents while Trump's policy
was still in force is unknown.
Avenatti, who has made headlines representing porn star Stormy Daniels
in an unrelated lawsuit against Trump, said Merida-Galicia is among more
than 60 immigrant parents he represents and 80 percent of them do not
know where their children are.
The federal government and Congress scrambled on Friday to address the
many unanswered questions raised by the hastily drafted executive order
Trump issued on Wednesday.
Attorney Luis Cortes Romero in Kent, Washington, said he represents a
Salvadoran woman who was separated in early May from her 11-year-old
daughter with Down syndrome after the two crossed the U.S.-Mexico border
in Texas. The woman is being held in Washington state and has decided
she doesn't want to pursue asylum so that she can be deported and
reunited with her daughter, he said.
"She said she never wants to come back, and that this experience has
been so traumatizing," Cortes Romero said.
Trump suggested on Friday that some of the wrenching tales that have
emerged from the border were fabricated by Democrats.
"We cannot allow our Country to be overrun by illegal immigrants as the
Democrats tell their phony stories of sadness and grief, hoping it will
help them in the elections," he tweeted.
Trump urged Republican lawmakers on Friday to drop their efforts to pass
comprehensive immigration legislation until after the November
congressional elections, flip-flopping on his appeal earlier in the week
for Congress to act soon.
Trump has gone back and forth on ways to solve the country's immigration
problems, which he blames on Democrats.
"Elect more Republicans in November and we will pass the finest, fairest
and most comprehensive Immigration Bills anywhere in the world," Trump
said on Twitter.
"Republicans should stop wasting their time on Immigration until after
we elect more Senators and Congressmen/women in November. Dems are just
playing games, have no intention of doing anything to solves this
decades old problem. We can pass great legislation after the Red Wave!"
[to top of second column]
President Donald Trump speaks during an "Angel Families" immigration
event at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 22, 2018.
All 435 House seats and a third of the 100-member Senate will be up
for grabs in November. Democrats are hoping that discontent among
voters with Trump’s policies, including on immigration, will help
the party make gains in Congress and flip control to Democrats in at
least one chamber.
The House of Representative on Thursday rejected a bill backed by
conservatives that would have halted the practice of splitting up
families and addressed other immigration issues. The House postponed
until next week a vote on a more moderate bill after it failed to
attract enough support for passage. But Trump's latest tweets could
doom that effort.
"Game over," said Representative Mark Sanford, a Republican critic
of Trump who came under withering attack from the president before
losing his primary race this month.
"Without the president having legislators' backs, there's no way
they're going to take the risks that would be inherent in a major
reform bill," Sanford told CNN.
Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican who represents a
majority Hispanic district in Florida and is not running for
re-election, said Trump’s tweets amounted to “schizoid policy
Even though the president has now ordered that families be kept
together in detention during immigration proceedings, it remained
unclear how and when those children already separated would be
reunited with their parents, and where families would be held while
the parents face criminal charges.
The U.S. Navy is drafting plans to house up to 25,000 immigrants on
its bases and other facilities, at an estimated cost to taxpayers of
about $233 million over six months, a U.S. official said on Friday.
But the Navy has not so far been asked to provide accommodation for
migrants who have entered the United States illegally, and the
official, who asked not to be named, stressed that the draft memo,
which looks at setting up housing on Navy airfields in Alabama, was
for planning purposes only.
The Department of Homeland Security on Friday filed a notice saying
it may need up to 15,000 more beds to handle immigrant families.
That would be a sharp increase from the 2,500 beds available for
families in the last fiscal year.
Shares in private prison operators CoreCivic Inc and Geo Group rose
on Friday as investors bet on increasing demand for their services
after U.S. authorities asked about available capacity for the
detention of immigrant families.
It was also unclear if the government would keep prosecuting cases
against people caught crossing the border illegally. It was the
administration's policy of zero tolerance - announced in April -
that led to blanket prosecutions, including of adults traveling with
(Reporting by Kristina Cooke and Richard Cowan; Additional eeporting
by Doina Chiacu, Idrees Ali, Amanda Becker, Steve Holland, Yeganeh
Torbati, Andy Sullivan and Justin Mitchell in Washington; Writing by
Kevin Drawbaugh and Jeff Mason; Editing by James Dalgleish)
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