US to Reunite Guatemalan Family Separated at Border

WASHINGTON (CN) – An asylum-seeking mother will likely be reunited with her 7-year-old son Thursday, two days after suing the Trump administration over their month-long separation at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Darwin Micheal Mejia, left, and his mother, Beata Mariana de Jesus Mejia-Mejia, are escorted to a news conference after their reunion at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport on June 22, 2018, in Linthicum, Md. The Justice Department agreed to release Mejia-Mejia’s son after she sued the U.S. government to be reunited with him following their separation at the U.S. border. A Guatemalan national, Mejia Mejia has filed for political asylum in the U.S. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Department of Justice attorneys said during a brief court hearing Thursday afternoon that Beata Mariana de Jesus Mejia Mejia’s son Darwin will be released in Phoenix this afternoon and then flown to Washington, D.C., to meet his mom.

The Guatemalan nationals will then fly to Austin, Texas, where Mejia Mejia, who was released on bond after passing a credible-fear interview, has friends and family to stay with.

“All I want is to be with my son,” Mejia Mejia, 38, said through a translator outside the court. “I want to see him. I appreciate very much the attorneys and their help. I appreciate all of the help. I just want to be with my son. I want to see him again.”

The pair crossed the border on May 19 near San Luis, Arizona, where they surrendered to U.S. Border Patrol agents and claimed asylum based on death threats they received in Guatemala, including from Mejia Mejia’s husband.

Mejia Mejia said agents entered her holding cell two days later and, with no explanation, forcibly took her son as he screamed and cried. They did not tell her where they were taking him, and she hasn’t seen him since.

It was not until passing the credible-fear interview that Mejia Mejia was even able to hear from the boy. She says she heard him repeat in a distressed voice, “Mama! Mama! Mama!”

Mario Williams, a lawyer for the family with the firm Nexus Derechos Humanos Attorneys, said Darwin was being held in a detention facility for unaccompanied minors in Phoenix, Ariz.

Darwin filed the July 19 complaint for Mejia Mejia with attorneys from McFadden & Shoreman.

Ahead of Thursday’s hearing, attorneys for the government claimed in a court filing that the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement was moving promptly to release Darwin under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.

They said this effort mooted Mejia Mejia’s case.

Department of Justice attorney Sarah Fabian told U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman that Darwin would be released by 1:30 p.m. Pacific time, and said the government would update the court by noon on Friday.

Friedman agreed to delay action on the case until then, with attorney Williams leaving open the possibility they could still pursue the lawsuit while only dropping their pursuit of a temporary restraining order, which would be mooted by the reunification.

The government argued, however, that Mejia Mejia lacks standing over the due-process and constitutional claims. It also says her lawsuit failed to identify the agency holding her son.

Regarding venue, the government has said any challenge to the boy’s detention in Arizona would require action in the District of Arizona, not in Washington, D.C.

Beata Mariana de Jesus Mejia Mejia speaks to reporters in Washington, D.C., after a June 21, 2018, hearing. After border agents separated Mejia from her 7-year-old son a month ago, Justice Department attorneys agreed today to reunite the family. (BRITAIN EAKIN, CNS)

The promise to release Darwin came amid a whirlwind of policy shifts from the Trump administration and mounting pressure over family separations.

Though Trump signed an executive order ending the policy Wednesday, the order specifies that the “zero-tolerance” policy concerning unlawful border crossers remains in effect.

It is unclear whether the government plans to reunite parents with the more than 2,500 children it has already separated.

Nexus by Libre furnished Mejia Mejia’s bond. Though grateful that Darwin’s separation from his mother is ending, the firm’s CEO Mike Donovan told reporters Thursday that “you can’t ignore the absolute human crisis represented by the separation in the first place.”

“We appreciate the government doing the right thing,” Donovan said outside the courthouse. “We bemoan the fact that it took so long, and we hope and pray that they’ll do the right thing for others.”

Donovan indicated that they plan to amend Mejia Mejia’s complaint and file a class action to represent all other migrant parents who have had their children taken from them.

Another federal court ruling reinforces immigrant detainees’ right to contact legal counsel.

In a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday in Los Angeles, attorney Gabriela Lopez claimed that the Department of Homeland Security among others prevented her from meeting with client Gustavo Rodriguez Castillo once he was transferred from Arizona to a federal correctional institute in Victorville, Calif.

U.S. District Judge Otis Wright II approved a temporary restraining order Thursday to open visitation hours to allow immigrant detainees to meet with legal counsel and family members.

Since Lopez was transferred from the San Luis Regional Detention Center in San Luis, Arizona to Victorville on June 12, he has been unable to contact either his family or his attorney. Therefore Wright wrote that Castillo “will suffer irreparable harm if injunctive relief is not granted.”

Prison officials announced weekday visiting hours after the lawsuit was filed. Nevertheless, the court expressed concern over a lack of a telephone procedure and ordered the prison to establish a “know your rights” clinic by July 9.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California considers the move, “a major victory over a Trump administration detention policy,” according to a public statement. The ruling makes it possible for “hundreds of detainees … held incommunicado at the prison” to access legal counsel, including parents who have been forcibly separated from their children.

“Legal assistance is especially essential for noncitizens trying to navigate the notoriously complicated immigration laws and regulations that are commonly considered second only to the tax code in complexity,” the suit argued.

“The legal help is particularly critical for asylum seekers who face deportation to a country where they might be persecuted, tortured, or killed,” the ACLU said.

Also on Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of California and attorneys with Latham & Watkins filed a class action against the Department of Defense and Defense Secretary James Mattis over a 2017 policy that ended a long-running practice of allowing lawful permanent residents to serve in the military.

Lead plaintiffs Jiahao Kuang and Deron Cooke filed the lawsuit in San Francisco, alleging violations of the due process clause and Administrative Procedure Act.

“Barring green card holders from the military is just one of many of the Trump administration’s harmful and counterproductive anti-immigrant policies,” ACLU staff attorney Sameer Ahmed said in a statement. “There is no justification for discriminating against individuals who want to risk their lives for this country simply because of their immigration status.”

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