Three hundred and twenty-four days. That’s how long 10-year-old Ervin spent separated from his dad, Jose, after they were torn apart at the southern border under the Trump administration’s barbaric “zero tolerance” policy last May. Nearly a year after their separation, the asylum-seekers were reunited last week in Arkansas. “I will explain to you what happened,” Jose, in tears, tells the boy. “But thanks to God, we’re going to be together again.”
This separation never should have happened. They originally came to the U.S. last May, after fleeing threats against their lives in Guatemala. But in custody, federal immigration agents shoved papers at Jose and told him to sign them. “I explained I couldn’t speak or read English,” he tells CBS News. They were papers agreeing to his own deportation. Ervin was left behind.
“Ervin was in government care for five months before being released to an uncle in Arkansas. On Sunday, Alvizures finally flew there and reunited with his son, with the help of Al Otro Lado, a non-profit now working their asylum case. Ervin's family does not believe he was mistreated while detained, though they said he has nightmares. Ervin said each night, he and other children said a prayer—some would cry.”
Al Otro Lado has been helping a number of previously deported parents reunite with their children, but they represent just a portion of the hundreds of parents who were deported by the Trump administration without their children. That, in turn, could also be just a portion of the total families that have been separated at the border by the administration. That number is unknown.
"The big wild card out there is whether there may be thousands more who have been separated,” said Lee Gelernt, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union. The group successfully sued for the reunification of families last year, and is pressing the judge in that case to include these additional families. “The government has remarkably asked for two years just to identify these new thousands of families.”
The administration has essentially claimed it would be too much work to track down these families, which apparently wasn’t an issue when it was tearing them apart at the border. During a recent court hearing, Judge Dana Sabraw was forced to remind the United States government that these are real people. "It's important to recognize that we're talking about human beings," he said at the time. "Every person needs to be accounted for."
Before finally reuniting with his dad, Erwin told CBS News that the first thing he would tell his dad is that he loves him. On Friday, he got a chance to do that, and both are now together as their asylum case plays out. Other children and parents are still waiting for that chance. Family separation remains a crisis.