Several of the asylum seekers separated from their children at the U.S.-Mexico border have been released from the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma pending their court proceedings. However, the parents are still anxiously waiting to be reunited with their children.
“What they’re doing is abuse; nobody should be prohibited from being able to connect with their children,” said Yolany Padilla speaking through a translator on Wednesday.
Padilla, of Honduras, is part of a class-action lawsuit filed by the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project seeking the immediate reunification of parents with their children. She's one of 55 parents brought to Western Washington for detention, as part of the zero-tolerance enforcement policy detentions in May.
Padilla says she hasn't seen her six-year-old son in nearly two months, since they were detained at the Texas border on May 18 while traveling with a group from Central America.
“After crossing the border, we were looking for the bridge. Our goal was to turn ourselves into the border patrol,” said Padilla.
Padilla describes being taken to a Border Patrol processing center and being separated from her son shortly thereafter.
“They recorded my fingerprints; they took picture of me by myself, and then called my son over to take a picture of us together,” she said. “That’s the last time I saw my son. I have no idea where they took him, no one told us anything. We asked questions, but they told us we should have thought of that before we crossed the border.”
Padilla says it took around a month before she was finally able to call her son, who was placed with a foster family in New York state. Since her release from the Northwest Detention Center on Friday, she says she’s been able to speak to him more regularly.
“But, I can’t say I’m happy, that’s not the case,” she said. “I’ll feel happy when I have him by my side.”
The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project said, so far, four other asylum-seeking parents have been granted release on bond. However, attorneys described the immigration courts as backlogged and the reunification process complex and time-consuming.
“At this time, we’re being required to prove Yolany’s fitness as a parent, despite the fact she’s done nothing to call her parenting into question,” said Leta Sanchez, one of Padilla’s attorneys.
Sanchez says the government is currently using a vetting process typically reserved for unaccompanied minors, requiring background checks, DNA, details about financial stability and housing.
However, ICE and Health and Human Services are also facing a court order to reunite the more than 2,000 separated children by the end of July. A separate deadline to reunite all children under the age of five passed earlier this week with roughly half of the estimated 100 children in that age range reunited.
"We anticipate that, as of the early morning on July 12, we will have reunified all children under age 5 who are eligible under the court order for reunification with parents in the United States," an administration official wrote in a statement to KING 5.
“Even though there’s a sense that family separation, this policy, has ended, it hasn’t ended,” said NWIRP Executive Director Jorge Barón
The San Diego judge who ordered the July deadlines expressed optimism and said the government appears to be making progress. However, hundreds of families are still waiting to learn when they’ll be reunited. For moms including Yolany Padilla, every minute prolongs the pain.
“It's been enough. The punishment has been completed. They've achieved their goal. It's time to return our kids,” said Padilla.
Padilla declined to share details of why she’s seeking asylum pending her court case. However, when asked if she planned to return to Honduras after she reunites with her son, she said ‘no.”
She also told reporters she doesn’t think the zero-tolerance enforcement policy or recent family separations has deterred individuals from Central America from trying to cross the border.