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Sunday, September 23 Local

Federal court declines to hasten reunification of children, parents

BRIDGEPORT — As U.S. officials work toward reuniting two children brought to Connecticut — while their parents are held 1,900 miles away at an immigrant detention center — with their families, hundreds of protesters demanded action Wednesday outside a federal courthouse in Bridgeport.

Inside, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle McConaghy told District Judge Victor Bolton that U.S. Attorney John Durham is pushing to bring a 9-year-old boy from Honduras and a 14-year-old girl from El Salvador back together with their parents.

“Our U.S. attorney has reached out to Immigration for reunification,” McConaghy told the judge. She said the U.S. Attorney’s Office is only asking for time to get it done.

But lawyers from Connecticut Legal Services and the Yale Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic asked that the judge order the reunification immediately, something Bolton appeared reluctant to do.

Instead, the judge reserved decision on that request and continued the case for a status hearing on July 18.

“Whatever the court does, we are trying to ensure the rule of law is upheld,” Bolton said.

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Immigration Rally

Media: CTGlobal

Outside the federal court building, protesters chanted anti-immigration-policy slogans and waived placards.

“These children at the very least deserve to be reunited with their parents,” said Vanesa Suarez of Unidad Latina en Accion, who led the spirited rally attended by about 200 protestors. “The system is all messed up — how can you explain it to a 9-year-old?”

Many carried signs with such slogans as “No Ban, No Wall, Liberty and Justice For All,” “Abolish ICE,” and “I Object to State-Sponsored Human Rights Abuse.”

Pleas from protesters

“Imagine the fright you feel when you’re at the mall with your child, and lose your child for just a few seconds,” said Jonathan Gonzalez-Cruz, from the group Connecticut Students for a Dream. “What one of the children told me terrified me — guards mocking children in cages and eating in front of them, knowing that they were hungry. Children as young as 1 are being incarcerated.”

Wednesday’s hearing had been billed as the first test of a California federal court decision ordering the Trump administration to reunite the 2,700 children separated by immigration officials from their parents by July 26.

In this case, the two children are being housed in a center in Noank, while their parents — the boy’s father and the girl’s mother — remain in Texas.

A live video feed was set up in the courtroom so the parents could see the hearing. Both were dressed in blue, prison-type outfits over long-sleeve white shirts. They sat in two chairs, side-by-side, facing the video camera in a dreary cinderblock conference room in the Texas facility. But the video and audio feed frequently shut down, and it wasn’t clear exactly how much they saw and heard.

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At one point, the mother of the girl dabbed tears from her eyes with the collar of her shirt, as Dr. Andres Martin, a professor of child psychology at Yale University, testified about the damage the two children may be suffering as a result of being separated from their parents.

“Both of these children suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome,” said Martin, who examined both children on July 1. “They should be reunified with their parents as soon as possible. They should be in a place they can have support, freedom and all the trappings of a normal life.”

Stories of terror

Martin said the boy, identified only as JSR, already had a history of trauma.

“He witnessed his grandmother, her throat slit by a machete, tossed into a river with her neck open,” Martin said. “Later on there was a body dumped in his backyard, somebody he knew from the neighborhood, and that murder had been blamed on his father by gang members who wanted to frame the father as a form of extortion.”

Other atrocities followed, Martin said, leaving his father no option but to try to seek asylum in the U.S.

Father and son walked north through Guatemala and Mexico, supporting themselves by working odd jobs along the way. This trek was “arduous” and at times they went hungry, but the journey otherwise went well — until they were greeted by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement police at the border, Martin said.

“His father came in the room with a blanket and he was so cold he couldn’t even open it,” Martin said. “Then the boy was told that his father had to sign some papers — and that was the last time that he saw his father.”

Martin said the girl told him she and her mother left El Salvador following the murder of her stepfather. Arrested at the Texas border, the girl was taken away to a room to take a shower, Martin said.

“She was told she would again see her mother after she took a shower, but when she returned she didn’t see her mother, and hasn’t seen her since,” Martin said.

Marisol Orihuela, the lead lawyer for the children, told the judge the July 26 deadline set by the California court should not stop him from ordering the immediate reunification of the children and their parents.

“These are two young children who are suffering every day,” she said, arguing that the court has the authority not only to order the children reunited with their parents but also that their parents be released from detention.

But McConaghy told the judge he had no authority to order the release of the parents.

“Moments before I came to court, I learned about a plan for reunification by July 26,” she told Bolton. She said two family detention centers are going to be established for immigrant families in Texas so that displaced parents and children can be together.

“I am asking that they be given time and that it could happen by July 26,” McConaghy told the judge.

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