‘My Son is Traumatized’: One Separated Family’s Reunion

Inside a Texas detention center, 3-year-old Sammy* was asleep next to his father, Ever Reyes-Mejia, on the ground with a tin foil emergency blanket when an Immigration and Customs Enforcement official told Ever that he needed to go see an immigration judge and fill out some paperwork. Ever asked whether he should leave his son asleep and was told that he would return shortly and there was no need to wake him.

That was the last time Ever saw his son before ICE took Sammy across the country to Bethany Christian Services, a foster care agency in Michigan.

Fleeing violence in Honduras, Ever and Sammy came to the United States in April 2018 seeking asylum, presenting themselves to immigration authorities at the McAllen Bridge in Texas. They were two of the thousands of parents and children who were forcibly separated under the Trump administration’s family separation policy. Ever and Sammy were separated for almost three and half months. During that time, Sammy was so upset that he refused to speak to his father on the phone.

On June 26, a federal judge, ruling in the ACLU’s class-action lawsuit, ordered the U.S. government to stop the separation of families and to reunite those who had already been torn apart. Ever was among the first group of parents prioritized for reunification because Sammy was under the age of 5.

On July 10, Ever and his son were reunited at an ICE station in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The ACLU of Michigan, along with community volunteers, were tasked with finding clothing, transportation, and short term housing for the family. They then traveled to Houston to reunite with Sammy’s mother and 5-month-old sister who had been released from detention after seeking asylum themselves.

The reunion that followed offers a window into just what medical experts warned: For children, the trauma of separation doesn’t disappear as soon as they have been reunited with their parents. It can, in fact, last for years, if not forever.

As of August 16, the government had reunited more than 2,000 children with their parents, following the court’s order forcing it to do so. Among the reunited families, there have been reports that many of the children are exhibiting signs of mental health issues and trauma, including anxiety and fear that their parents will be taken away again.

“There is no greater threat to a child’s emotional well-being than being separated from a primary caregiver,” Johanna Bick, a psychology professor at the University of Houston, recently told The New York Times. “Even if it was for a short period, for a child, that’s an eternity,”

At the Houston airport, Sammy refused to look his mother in the eyes. Instead he pulled from her embrace, as she tried to hold him and was saying, “I’m your mommy.” As Sammy crawled away aimlessly, she turned to her husband, asking, “What happened?”

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After several attempts, Sammy allowed his mom to pick him up, and the family made their way through the airport, walking amongst other travelers oblivious to the tremendous suffering this family had endured for the past several months. Afterwards, the family of four sat on a bench outside of the B terminal arrivals and discussed their experience with detention, separation, and reunion.

Describing the experience of being separated from her son and husband, Sammy’s mom said, “I felt like I could no longer take anymore. My soul was destroyed.” She continued, “I didn’t know where he had gone or know if my son was alone in a cage without his father.”

“I counted the minutes until I saw him, and when they told me he was on his way over I felt like I wanted him here that second, my soul couldn’t take it, but I am happy with my son,” she said as she kissed Sammy on the head through tears.

The future is still unclear for the Reyes-Mejia family. The family was allowed to reunite and stay with a family sponsor with the caveat of frequent ICE check-ins and the continual use of an ankle monitors. Whether they will prevail in their asylum case is unknown.

While the Reyes-Mejia’s are now together, hundreds of families are still separated. As of August 23, 528 immigrant children still remain in government custody. For hundreds, the government already deported their parents without a plan to locate them, while others are deemed “ineligible” for other reasons by the government for reunification.

In other words, the cruelty continues.

*Names are pseudonyms.Visit www.aclu.org/families to join in the fight to make sure the Trump administration is held accountable and separated families are reunited.

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Anonymous

Every single person who supports THIS, supports the MONSTERS in the WH and everything they do can GO TO HELL. ALL of you, miserable worthless humans and my hope is that jail will be in your future for supporting traitorous criminals who have done this and so much more.

Anonymous

I live in hell because of illegal aliens taking jobs and my Taxpayers money so they use wic,food stamps, welfare because of their countries can’t take care them. I am older Americans citizen I have to decide whether to buy my medication or food or pay my rent. I am looking for jobs because of illegals aliens keeping wage low I have work two jobs. Yes I am living in hell thanks to you and your kind. All the illegal aliens and you should be deported. You need to go back to your own family county or go help these people in their own and make it right BUT YOU DO NOT HAVE BACK BONE TO LEAVE AMERICA and help anyone.

Mary

My heart is broken over this I still don't know if the child calling Papa is still in a cage. I can't believe such a thing can happen in America. It is like watching NAZIs separating the little kids from the parents. Thank you for the work you have done. These people would be welcome to my country Ireland. There are some things that can never be forgiven and this is one of the worst. Watch how this will turn on Trump and ICE they deserve all that is coming their way.

Anonymous

A three year old...disgraceful. If this isn't the most immoral, despicable thing our government has ever done, I don't even want to know what might be.

Anonymous

While it is horrible, it isn't in fact the worst we've ever done. Remember interment camps for Japanese families?

Anonymous

Has the ACLU given a thought to the trauma these kids suffered when their parents subjected them to a physically brutal journey on foot for days?? How do you choose only one traumatic experience to champion? It is my belief that the ACLU should also advocate for these kids by discouraging illegal immigration. Social media, its pretty simple and doesnt cost a dime to share the physical and mental risks a child is likely to incur when forced to cross the border. Ask the kids if they had a choice which would they choose. A) make the same journey getting here or B) staying one week in the care facility w/o their parents

Peter

"Fleeing violence in Honduras, Ever and Sammy came to the United States in April 2018 seeking asylum, presenting themselves to immigration authorities at the McAllen Bridge in Texas." These folks presented themselves to authorities to seek asylum here, which is a perfectly legal thing to do. It's a standard procedure for asylum seekers. Not everything is black and white and Zero Tolerance policies will cause damages to families like this. Zero Tolerance = lame brained nincompoopery.

Anonymous

They make this risk because the terrors they live under are already traumatizing them, because not taking this risk may deprive them of any chance to live. Do you think risking your life to walk through the desert is a goddamn cakewalk? Do you think people take this lightly? The constant threats of complete poverty, cartels, corrupt governments, brutality, rape, disease, and in some cases starvation are not some minor problem to be put up with. If you fail to understand this you are lucky to have never been faced with a life or death situation in a broke country. If you use this as your talking point togo "what about" while people criticize a fascist government putting children in cages, you need to take a step back and evaluate what kind of human being you are.

Anonymous

Yeah, it's the Parents fault??? JFC I hope you never have to Cole America bc of trump!
What would make a parent trek hundreds of miles with kids in tow??? You probably consider yourself a good Christian.. but obviously you are not

Mrs Deirdre Hewitt

This continued abuse of families is outrageous and beyond belief. Is it any wonder that children are becoming traumatised? Indeed, it will be a miracle if many of those who have been separated and then reunited will ever become a 'normal' family again. They came to America to escape the violence in their own country, only to come across a different kind of violence in the U.S. As for the children who still have to be reunited with parents already sent back to their own country, it is probable that they will never get over it. If people in authority with Trump had their children forcibly taken from them, there would have been war. But these people, desperate and hopeful of a better life, are treated as less than humans. It's disgusting and really not worthy of what America is supposed to stand for.

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