Elizabeth and her 12-year-old son Antonio crossed the U.S.-Mexico border together after fleeing violence in El Salvador, but for weeks after forcibly separating them, immigration officials refused to tell her where the boy had been sent. At one point, one immigration official even tried to convince Elizabeth that she “had entered the United States alone, without a child at all.”
Elizabeth is now among the parents seeking millions in damages from the Trump administration, saying that the family separation policy left their families traumatized. “From the moment Antonio was taken away, Elizabeth was consumed with fear and grief,” a legal filing states. Immigration officials didn’t even allow her to say goodbye. “The officers told her that there was no time and dragged her away, saying that Antonio ... was ‘no longer a child.’”
Elizabeth spent weeks without any information about her son. She stopped eating and became “so distraught that she sometimes wanted to die.” Elizabeth was prescribed a drug called Vistaril for her anxiety, which she took voluntarily at first. When she found it made her disoriented and sleepy, she stopped. It was then that officials forced her take the medication, as many as two pills three times a day. “Other times, officers would berate and verbally threaten her until she took the pills.”
It would be a month before Elizabeth would get to talk to her son on the phone. Antonio had been sent to a facility in New York, where he saw other frightened kids. “The other children were also scared and crying, and a person at the facility told Antonio and the other children that they had to call her ‘mom.’” During the phone conversation, “Antonio cried and begged Elizabeth to come get him and take him back to El Salvador.” After only five minutes, their call was terminated.
The two were separated for nearly three months, until they were reunited in Florida, where a sponsor had helped Elizabeth get her own apartment. “She felt like it had been years since they were apart. Together, she and Antonio cried and cried.” Still, the trauma from their forcible separation continues. When Antonio left for his first day of seventh grade, Elizabeth had a panic attack. Antonio “has nightmares about his experience, and described the months-long separation from his mother as ‘the worst thing that has ever happened.’”
Monday, Feb. 18, marks 207 days since a federal judge’s reunification deadline, but children stolen from families at the border are still in U.S. custody. Family separation remains a crisis.