HARTFORD — Two immigrant children detained in Connecticut and their parents were reunited and freed Monday after having been separated during an asylum attempt at the U.S.-Mexico border under the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy, according to a lawyer for the children.
Government officials brought the mother of the 14-year-old girl from El Salvador and father of the 9-year-old boy from Honduras to Connecticut from Texas after granting them parole during deportation proceedings, said Michael Wishnie, a Yale Law School professor who is representing the children.
The children had been detained by a government contractor in Groton. They sued Attorney General Jeff Sessions in federal court in Connecticut, where a judge ruled Friday that separating them from their parents was unconstitutional.
“Releasing these kids and their parents is the first step in addressing the trauma that the government’s cruel ‘zero tolerance policy’ has caused,” said Hannah Schoen, a Yale Law School student who also is representing the children, said in a statement. “We are hopeful that these families will now begin to heal, even as we know it will take months or years for them to overcome the harm caused by the government.”
The location of the two families is being withheld for privacy and safety reasons, their lawyers said.
The government has said up to nearly 3,000 children have been separated at the border. Officials say they’re working to reunify more than 2,500 children 5 and older before a July 26 court-ordered deadline. Dozens of children under 5 were reunified with their families last week under another deadline.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle McConaghy wrote in a court filing Monday in the Connecticut case that government officials approved prosecutors’ request for an expedited reunion, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement granted the two parents parole with certain release conditions.
In his ruling Friday, U.S. District Judge Victor Bolden did not order an immediate reunification as requested by lawyers for the children. He said the children were covered under a wide-ranging ruling by another federal judge, who set the July 26 deadline for children 5 and older.
McConaghy also wrote that the parents still face deportation proceedings and were granted parole from detention under certain allowed circumstances, such as an “urgent humanitarian reason or significant public benefit.”
The boy and his father fled Honduras because they feared for their lives after the boy’s grandparents were murdered and the body of a family friend was left in their backyard, according to court documents filed by Yale Law students. They entered the U.S. on June 11, were detained and authorities took the father away while the boy was sleeping, the students said.
The girl fled El Salvador with her mother after her stepfather was killed by gang members for refusing to lend them his scooter, according to the law students. They entered the U.S. in mid-May, were detained and authorities separated them while the girl was brought to a shower, the students said.
A psychiatrist testified before Bolden last week that both children show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Another hearing before Bolden is scheduled for Wednesday.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, said Monday that the separation policy was “unconstitutional and unconscionable” and he called for permanent reunification, care and counseling for the separated families.
“I will continue to hold the Administration accountable for the thousands of other migrant children who remain separated, with no serious plan or strategy for reunification despite court orders,” he said in a statement.