Seventeen parents who had been separated from their children by immigration authorities were released from a detention center near Calexico this week, more than a month after they returned to the Mexico border to claim asylum in the United States.
The parents had all previously entered the U.S. and been detained with their children before being separated. The parents were then deported while their children have remained in the U.S. in shelters, in foster homes or with relatives.
Last month, lawyers with the nonprofit Al Otro Lado (“On the Other Side”) helped 29 Central American parents travel to the Mexicali border and demand entry to pursue their asylum claims and reunite with their children. According to Al Otro Lado, all the parents fled persecution or violence in Guatemala, El Salvador or Honduras.
The group arrived March 2. Twelve parents who came with minor children and other family members were processed and released within a week. But the 17 others who arrived alone remained in the Imperial Regional Detention Facility without explanation.
Four of the parents were released Monday and Tuesday on humanitarian parole, meaning they were not required to pay bond. The remaining 13 parents were released Friday night after lawyers paid a combined $22,000 in bond, which was required for 11 of them.
The Trump administration unveiled its family separation policy a year ago this month. After two months of public outcry, Trump signed an order to end the separations, though advocates say the administration has continued to quietly separate hundreds of families.
More than 400 parents were deported without their children under the official policy. In June, a U.S. District Court judge in San Diego blocked the policy and ordered the Trump administration to reunite all separated families.
Homeland Security Department memos, inspector general reports, government data and court documents have shown that administration officials began separating families months before then-Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions’ announcement last April of “zero tolerance” for people crossing the border without authorization. That could result in potentially thousands more separations than previously known.
Late last week, administration officials said it could take up to two years to determine how many children were separated from their parents since July 2017.
“This is far from over,” said attorney Erika Pinheiro with Al Otro Lado.
Her group received close to $1 million in financial assistance from Together Rising, which established fundraising campaigns during the height of the separation crisis. After lawyers found the parents, they secured legal permission for them to enter Mexico and then the parents presented themselves to officials at the U.S. border.
Before being released from detention, they all passed credible fear interviews — the first step toward establishing claims for asylum.