Nine parents who were deported without their children after being separated by the Trump administration in 2017 and 2018 returned to the U.S. this week, as part of a historic court ruling. Among them was Guatemalan asylum-seeker David Xol, whose family’s story made national headlines when the administration kept his son, Byron, in custody for nearly a year even though a Texas family had Xol’s permission to sponsor him.
The AP reports that after arriving at Los Angeles International Airport on Wednesday, Xol fell to one knee and cried as he hugged his son after a year and a half of separation. “He was small,” he said according to the AP. “He grew a lot.”
The group of parents were ordered returned as part of an “unprecedented” 2019 court ruling. Federal judge Dana Sabraw, who in 2018 had ordered the reunification of thousands of families ripped apart under the barbaric “zero tolerance” policy, ruled that federal immigration agents had unlawfully blocked some parents from seeking asylum, including coercing them into agreeing to be deported and lying to them about asylum law.
Among the 11 parents that fell under Sabraw’s order was Xol, who had been separated from Byron since May 2018. The administration had kept the boy in custody for nearly a year following Xol’s deportation, even though a Texas family, Matthew and Holly Sewell, had Xol’s permission to sponsor him. A federal judge finally ordered Byron’s release after 11 months, and he’d been living with the Sewells since, who made sure the boy was in touch regularly with his dad through video calls.
Fernando, another one of the returned parents, told CBS News that "I don't have words to express what I feel. It's something really big.” In video of their reunion, his daughter, seven-year-old Allison, is heard crying “papi” as she rushes into his arms. He hadn’t seen his family in a year and eight months. "We all deserve an opportunity in life,” he told CBS News. “And to all the parents who are watching us, who are separated from their children, have patience, have faith and pray a lot because miracles exist."
“Fernando and the other migrant parents thanked the coalition of advocacy groups that helped them return to the U.S,” CBS News reported, including Al Otro Lado, the Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project, De Anda Law Firm, Milbank LLP, Justice in Motion and the Los Angeles Archdiocese. The parents must now check in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials as they pursue their second chance at asylum.
The parents’ return represents a step toward justice, but it in no way erases the government-inflicted harm of family separation. A 2019 report from the Health and Human Services inspector general found that children kidnapped by the administration suffered “fear, feelings of abandonment, and post-traumatic stress” as a result of separation from their families, leading some kids to believe that “their parents had abandoned them,” while others “expressed acute grief that caused them to cry inconsolably.”
Their trauma also manifested in other ways, a medical director said according to the report. “Physical symptoms felt by separated children are manifestations of their psychological pain. You get a lot of ‘my chest hurts,’ even though everything is fine [medically]. Children describe symptoms, ‘Every heartbeat hurts,’ ‘I can’t feel my heart,’ of emotional pain.”