A 24-year-old Honduras woman seeking asylum in the United States has been reunited with her 6-year-old son in Seattle about two months after they were separated by U.S. immigration authorities.
Padilla crossed the border illegally in Hidalgo, Texas, on May 18 with a group from Central America. She was sent to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington, and was released about a week ago on $8,000 bond.
Her six year old son, Jelsin, was placed in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement and sent to New York. He flew into Sea-Tac Airport in Seattle on Saturday where the two reunited.
"It's difficult to explain (how I feel) in this moment because it's so big. It's been so long since I've seen him. Imagine how I feel inside," said a tearful Padilla, speaking through a translator. "It felt like my heart was going to come out of my body."
Earlier in the week, Padilla explained the events leading up to their separation.
“After crossing the border, we were looking for the bridge. Our goal was to turn ourselves into the border patrol,” said Padilla, speaking through an interpreter on Wednesday.
Padilla described 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 said 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 July 6, she said 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.
“Even though there’s a sense that family separation, this policy, has ended, it hasn’t ended,” said NWIRP Executive Director Jorge Barón
"What we're demanding is that we see moments like these happen right away, where families have been reunified," he said.
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,” Padilla previously said.
She declined to share details of why she’s seeking asylum pending her court case. She plans to stay in Washington for the immediate future, Barón said.
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.
Padilla's next step is a hearing in immigration court, Barón said. He did not believe a date had been set.
"I hope that all these bad things that have happened will turn into good things in the future," she said.