Guatemalan woman reunited with 12-year-old daughter after month of being separated

Tears ran down the face of 12-year-old Yoselin as she embraced her mother upon landing at Los Angeles International A...

Posted: Jul 3, 2018 12:15 PM
Updated: Jul 3, 2018 12:15 PM

Tears ran down the face of 12-year-old Yoselin as she embraced her mother upon landing at Los Angeles International Airport on Sunday.

She and her mother, Perla De Velasquez, had come from Guatemala seeking asylum in the United States when they were taken into federal custody upon reaching the U.S.-Mexico border several weeks ago.

De Velasquez said immigration agents told her they were taking her daughter for a bath, but then never returned with her.

She and Yoselin did not see each other for more than a month - until she was able to force their reunification through a suit filed against the Trump Administration.

Ultimately, it took a week of negotiations with government officials to finally bring them together, according to legal organization Nexus Services, which helped coordinate their reunion. Yoselin had been staying at an immigration detention facility in Texas.

The mother and daughter held on tightly to one another and wept when they first saw each other on Sunday, as news cameras flashed and De Velasquez's lawyer prepared to make a statement on her behalf.

"I think the most important thing to know and understand about today is that a family that never should have been separated is being reunited today, and they're very happy to be reunited," her attorney, Mario Williams, told reporters.

According to court filings, 12-year-old Yoselin has been wrongly characterized by federal officials as an "unaccompanied" child even though her mother had come into the U.S. with a government-issued identification card from her home country and a birth certificate showing she is Yoselin's mother.

The suit goes on to argue De Velasquez had been released on bond, making it so there's "zero basis" for the Office of Refugee Resettlement to "continue imprisoning her 12-year-old daughter" along with thousands of other children.

The Trump Administration has taken a hard-line approach to handling immigrants who enter the country illegally, including those seeking to apply for asylum, by seeking to prosecute all those who cross over. It's resulted in families being sent to different facilities as the parents face legal proceedings.

The president has argued the policy is necessary, but on June 20, issued an executive order that would keep families held in detention together - although without a set plan for reuniting those who have already been separated.

At least 2,000 immigrant children were separated from their parents during a period between mid-April through the end of May, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Those children who are under the age of 5 were expected to go to so-called "tender age shelters" set up by the federal government, the Associated Press reported.

Many of the immigrant families have come from the Central American countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, according to federal officials.

More people from these countries sought asylum in the U.S. between 2013 and 2015 than in the previous 15 years combined, according to data from the Department of Homeland Security. In 2017, the number of asylum seekers rose another 30 percent from the year before.

A sharp rise in the number of people seeking asylum from these countries in recent years can be attributed to record levels of violence and gang activity in the region, according to the Washington Office on Latin America, a research and advocacy group.

The De Velasquez family now plans to live in Los Angeles and continue the asylum process, according to a statement from Nexus Services.

Yoselin's father was also reunited with her at LAX after more than 10 years apart, the legal organization said, although the reason for their separation is less clear.

In court filings, De Velasquez and her attorneys have argued the separation of children from their parents at the border is unconstitutional and a racist form of policy.

The suit names Attorney General Jeff Sessions as a defendant and states he has "unabashedly targeted asylum seekers who originate from Central America" by issuing the zero-tolerance policy and saying there are "loopholes" in the application process.

"The system is being gamed," he said in remarks before the Executive Office in October 2017. He said the process for determining whether an immigrant has a "credible fear" of persecution or torture has become "an easy ticket to illegal entry into the United States."

Meanwhile, immigration advocates continue to call for the reunion of families still separated - an ongoing dilemma with no clear legislative solution.

Currently, a flyer issued by the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Health & Human Services called "Next Steps for Families" addresses parents whose children have been taken.

It has a line that reads: "How do I located my child(ren)?"

Below it is a list of instructions with various phone lines and suggestions for what information to provide about one's child.

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