By now, you’ve probably heard the news that thousands of children have been separated from their parents at the U.S. border due to the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy set in place this past April. And although President Trump signed an Executive Order on June 20th to end the family separation aspect of the policy – and a week later a federal judge ordered that separated families be reunited within 30 days – it remains to be seen how many families are actually being reunited at this time.
Let’s be perfectly clear: We are talking about real human beings here – moms and dads and their precious children. These are not just statistics. These are mothers and fathers with empty, aching arms, and children crying in the middle of the night for their parents. These families need to be reunited NOW.
But, it turns out that despite the executive order and the ruling by the federal judge, there appears to be a new, extra — and extremely cruel — hurdle facing these families who are trying desperately to reunite with their kids. Kate Lincoln-Goldfinch, a Texas immigration lawyer who has been working with families separated at the border, tells Scary Mommy that two clients she’s working with have been denied bond after passing what’s called a “credible fear interview” (where they prove that conditions in the countries they are fleeing pose immediate dangers to their families).
Typically, after passing the “credible fear interview,” says Lincoln-Goldfinch, parents are released from detention on bail, so that they can be reunited with their children, and begin to pick up the pieces of their lives, get jobs, find a home, etc., while they await further legal decisions on their asylum cases. Having bail denied means that these parents will stay in detention centers longer — and will continue to be separated from their children.
This is something Lincoln-Goldfinch has never seen happen before. She tells Scary Mommy that it first happened last Thursday to a mother she has been representing named Emma (name changed to protect her ongoing legal battle), and that one other mother she works with has had her bail denied as well. Two other lawyers in her area have seen the same thing happen to their clients, according to Lincoln-Goldfinch.
Scary Mommy’s video team has been following the story of Emma and her son David (name also changed), the first parent that Lincoln-Goldfinch knows of who was denied bail. Emma came to the U.S. almost two months ago because she feared for her and her son’s life. Emma is from Guatemala, and is of Indigenous descent (she doesn’t speak Spanish, the predominant language in Guatemala).
She had been burglarized several times, but when she took her case to the local police, she was only offered limited protection – likely because she is a persecuted minority in her country. When the burglars began threatening to kidnap her son if she did not give them more money, she felt that fleeing the country was her only hope.
“She was targeted; she was a victim of ethnic violence,” explains Lincoln-Goldfinch. “Because of her ethnicity and the fact that she speaks a language that is different from the predominant language of her country, when she reported the crimes and the violence against her, the police wouldn’t help her because she wasn’t speaking Spanish.”
Emma didn’t know about the zero tolerance policy when she crossed the border, and like so many families, she was detained in a different facility than her son as she awaited legal proceedings. Emma was detained in the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Texas and David was brought to Cayuga Center in NYC. Little David – who is only 5 years old – was detained at Cayuga for three weeks until he was released to his father, who has been living in the NYC area for several years now.
It is fortunate that David’s father is in America, because it means he gets to stay with family while he awaits a reunion with his mom. But his father came to America – to seek a better life for his family, and earn money, which he sent back to Emma — when David was only 6 months old, so the two only know each other through phone calls.
“[David] really misses his mom,” David’s dad tells Scary Mommy. “He has never been away from her. He wakes up in the middle of the night screaming and crying for her. It’s really hard. He wakes me up and he asks for her. I’m worried for him. I think he will need a psychologist. I’m looking for one for him.”
All of this is why Emma, David, and David’s dad were so hopeful about the prospect of Emma being released from the detention center after passing her interview — and why the family was so shocked when Emma’s bail was denied.
“It was really shocking to me, because for weeks up until that point, every separated mom who passed her credible fear interview was getting a $1,500 bond,” says Lincoln-Goldfinch. “So I was preparing her and her family to have that money ready, so that on the day she passes, she can pay it…she can get out. Everybody was operating on that timeline and that assumption.”
Emma’s interview – and her bond denial – happened last Thursday, June 28th, and idea was that Emma would be able to fly to New York to see David that same day, if all went according to plan. It was a crushing moment, and a cruel fate that no one thought would happen.
“I was going to pick her up and take her to the airport, get her to her kid within 24 hours,” says Lincoln-Goldfinch.
That did not happen. Emma and David are still apart.
It seems like this unconscionable trend is continuing.
“I got a call yesterday from another mom,” Lincoln-Goldfinch shares. “She was like, shaking and crying. She was so happy that she passed her credible fear interview — she had just found out. But she was like, ‘Then the deportation officers told me that I can’t get out. What’s happened?’”
Absolutely heartbreaking. It’s hard to even fathom what it must feel like to be a mother in this position.
As for what happens next? Lincoln-Goldfinch says the future is uncertain for Emma, and any other parent who has been denied bail.
“There’s no information, and it’s up to ICE’s discretion,” she explains. “It’s a policy that they can change in a moment.” Lincoln-Goldfinch says that there is a process to appeal the bond denial, which is what she will be helping these mothers with.
“But it delays everything by several weeks, which is incomprehensible when you’re talking about a five-year-old kid,” she says.
Yes, it absolutely is. The trauma that David and other children are facing because of these policies will last a lifetime. There are truly no words to describe the injustice and pain these families are facing.
Lincoln-Goldfinch says that the fate of Emma and David remains to be seen, as the ICE policies are constantly changing and each parent’s fate rests in the hands of judges who may or not rule in their favor.
“We don’t know yet if the appeals with go through, or if other blockades will come up,” she says. “It’s up to the discretion of each individual judge, and a lot of these judges are former ICE prosecutors and tend to deny bond. So it’s possible that some of these mothers won’t be able to get out at all.”
If you are moved by Emma’s story and want to do something – anything – to reunite her with her son, Lincoln-Goldfinch recommends that you call your representatives to urge them to change this bond denial policy. She recommends calling Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen specifically to voice your concerns (here is contact information for her office).
You may also consider contributing to The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), which is raising funds to cover legal fees for families separated at the border.
Really, the call to action is simple: Get these babies back in the loving arms of their parents.
5 year old David sums it up in only the way a young child could: “They should let my mother go. I miss her. I need her to take care of me.”