Hermelindo Che Coc and his six-year-old son Jefferson spent nearly two months separated after officials tore them apart at the border—and when they were finally reunited this week at Los Angeles International Airport, the pain of their separation was evident. When Jefferson “looked up,” Esmeralda Bermudez of the Los Angeles Times reported, “his eyes were vacant, lost. He didn’t reach for Che Coc, didn’t lift his little arms to hug him.” As the dad carried him off, she described him as “stiff and expressionless.” He was traumatized.
Many have probably imagined joyous reunifications, and some of that has happened. But also remember that these children have been deeply damaged by the purposeful actions of this administration. Some children may even be wondering if their parents wanted to leave them. Hermelindo said that when he called the boy using a relative’s phone, Jefferson was distraught. “Papa, I thought they killed you,” he said. “You separated from me. You don’t love me anymore?”
Hermelindo now had his son back, but “his arms, stomach and back were covered in a rash. His right eye was bruised red. He had a cough and a runny nose,” and just as disturbingly, he wasn’t the happy child he was in their home country of Guatemala. “This is not how I gave them my son,” he cried. “My son has come back to me sick.”
Other formerly detained migrant children have described strict rules where even hugging your own sibling is forbidden. Twelve-year-old Leticia, according to the New York Times, was being detained in Texas and “had hoped to give her little brother a reassuring hug. But ‘they told me I couldn’t touch him,’ she recalled.”
Mass deportation policies are toxic, with the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners stating that “research clearly shows that traumatic life experiences in childhood, especially those that involve loss of a caregiver or parent, cause lifelong risk for cardiovascular and mental health disease.”
Pain that Hermelindo is doing his best to ease. He’s trying to learn English, prepared the small space they’ll be living in for now, and bought him new clothes. His “attorneys with Immigrant Defenders Law Center said illegal entry charges brought against Che Coc were dismissed. Now they plan to fight for asylum—a protection granted by international law—for the father and son.”
“I want him to walk in here and know he’s home,” Hermelindo said. “I’m his papa and we’ll always be together.”