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The asylum-seeking Congolese mother and child I’ve been writing about for the past two weeks have finally been reunited here in Chicago, where the 7-year-old girl has been held apart from her mother since November.
The reunion happened late Friday and, according to an American Civil Liberties Union attorney representing the family, mother and child fell into each other’s arms crying in a moment of tremendous emotion.
The ACLU released a statement quoting the mother — identified only as Ms. L. — saying: “It has been such a painful time. I am so grateful to be with my daughter again. I want to thank all the people who supported me and my daughter.”
To recap, Ms. L. fled the Democratic Republic of the Congo with her then-6-year-old daughter, S.S., fearing imminent death. They arrived at a port of entry in California in November, found a border agent and said they were seeking asylum. The mother passed a credible fear test, meaning immigration officials believe she has a strong asylum case and would face death or persecution if returned to her home country.> >
Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project and one of the attorneys representing the mother and child, notified me of the reunification Friday night.
Remember, these are people seeking asylum. They are not “illegal immigrants,” and they did not break any laws. What happened to them is cruel, and government officials have yet to offer a decent explanation or acknowledge that this was a mistake.
At a rally held Thursday night in downtown Chicago, Gelernt said the ACLU believes the Trump administration is intentionally separating asylum-seeking families to deter other asylum seekers from coming to America. The ACLU has filed a class-action lawsuit alleging that hundreds of families like Ms. L. and S.S. have been separated, including a Brazilian mother and child, with the mother being held in Texas and the 14-year-old boy detained in Chicago.
“That is a horrific, horrific thing, and we need to stop it,” Gelernt said. “This is just the start. We’ve expanded our lawsuit because we have seen that hundreds of little kids are sitting apart from their families.”
Homeland Security officials, along with officials at ICE, Health and Human Services, and the Office of Refugee Resettlement, have made clear they will not comment on pending litigation.
Homeland Security and ICE have refused specific requests for details on the overall protocol used when an asylum seeker arrives in America with children.
And I’m not the only one being stonewalled.
Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth sent a letter to Kirstjen Nielsen, the head of the Department of Homeland Security, on March 2 asking a series of questions regarding DHS policy on separating families at the border. They gave her until March 9 to respond. That date passed and there’s still no response.
A spokesperson for Durbin told me via email that “the questions raised by the Senators need answers and they will continue to assert Congress’ oversight authority over the Administration’s mass deportation agenda.”
Why was Ms. L. separated from her daughter for four months? Why was she swiftly released from detention only after a lawsuit and media exposure? Why wasn’t a DNA test performed sooner? How many other families are being separated? If Homeland Security doesn’t have a policy of separating families, as officials have claimed, why are there so many cases of family separation being reported?
What is our government doing in our name that it won’t tell us about?
Ms. L. and her child are together again. That’s a wonderful thing.
But the questions surrounding their case and many others deserve answers.
Because right now, the government’s silence tells us a lot, and none of it’s good.