‘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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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.

Cynthia Davis-...

Sammy was taken to Bethany Christian Services, an agency owned by the Devos family corporation. The are more criminals hiding behind Sessions than we think.

Anonymous

The brutality of the Trump administration is atrocious. The y were warned that the separation of families would injure the child and they did not care. These are human beings. They are human beings before you categorize them as "illegals" or "refugees." As Americans, we have lost our moral compass if in fact we ever had it in the first place when you review our history of racism, bigotry and hatred of others that did not fit into the American concept of superiority. It is now for us to rise to the description we promote about our selves as a nation. The perfect idea that is documented on our Constitution of an idea of a higher existence of self. This brutality of our fellow man and women and child...can not be continued but must be STOPPED.

Anonymous

Well said an felt

Anonymous

I am so ashamed of this government and what has been done in our name. I am the mother of a 14 month old boy and if he didn't recognize me, I don't know how I would go on. This family has come seeking safety and this is what we did to them. What have we become?

Dr. Timothy Leary

It traumatizes me to have to pay taxes to care for these poor people trying to enter the U.S. of A. without proper reason or authorization.

Anonymous

Could you elaborate on the trauma that you have endured?

Anonymous

Legally seeking asylum isn't a proper reason?

Dr. Timothy Leary

Anybody can claim to be traumatized. Currently, I am traumatized by having to answer questions from you two fumducks.

Native American

Love your comment. It is true. Americans taxpayers have pay for illegal aliens stay. What about AMERICAN CITIZENS PARENTS who are separated permanently from their CHILDREN because of illegal aliens killing them? They can never have children or their parents will never be grandparents from their lost one. Where is out cry for them?

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