Most of us remember Jimena Valencia Madrid, the six year old Salvadorian girl who was apprehended with her mom while crossing our southern border from Mexico. After fleeing murder and rape in their home country of El Salvador, things would seemingly get worse in the United States when they were immediately separated by ICE and border authorities. Jimena was sent to a “tender age” shelter in Phoenix while her mom, Cindy Madrid, was shipped out like a parcel to a detention facility in south Texas. This process had become standard procedure as a result of the Trump administration’s “Zero Tolerance” policy. A sobbing Jimena pleaded with caretakers to call her aunt here in the States. She had even memorized the phone number.
Now after a month-long nightmare, mother and daughter were hastily reunited last week at 3 am in a Houston airport. This was actually swift justice, only because the pair were prepared and determined to live the American dream once they arrived at “ground zero.” They were also a bit lucky. After Federal Court Judge Dana Sabraw set two deadlines for nearly 3000 children to be reunited with their parents, the Department of Homeland Security has scrambled to match up families. In a cost-cutting measure, the government has suggested that parents pay for the return trip of their own kids from wherever they were relocated. Otherwise, there could be more delays. Fortunately, a Houston resident from El Salvador had helped Madrid cover those expenses. She has also obtained an immigration attorney and passed her initial “credible fear” test needed to move her asylum case forward in the court system. She is battle tested, but understandably bitter.
“What they are doing to the adults is not fair,” says Madrid, 29. “But what they are doing to the children is even worse. They are harming them, possibly for life.”
Jimena had waited for several hours in an airport lounge waiting for her mother to arrive. She spent the time mostly coloring, the anxiety building. When Cindy Madrid finally arrived, her emotional child had a “complete meltdown.” Kids can be resilient in troubled times. But after surviving a perilous journey through Mexico only to be ripped away from a loved one in our land of opportunity, who know how long a child’s scars will last?
Meanwhile in a special hearing on July 17th, Judge Sabraw temporarily halted all deportations of immigrant parent(s) seeking asylum until further notice. He also ruled that all remaining 2551 children must be returned to their parents by the original final deadline of July 26th. At that point, families will have a week to decide whether they wish to pursue their asylum plea or return to their homeland. It’s certain that the overwhelming majority will decide to remain and have their day in court, especially since final hearings could take months or even years. One issue that could come into play is a new and stricter version of grounds for asylum, only recently cooked up by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Under new guidelines, threats of murder, rape and other gang violence would not be considered as legitimate reasons for asylum because it doesn’t fall under the category of government persecution. However, legal experts have concluded that such modifications would not pertain to those families who petitioned or made their declaration prior to the change. This, of course, remains to be seen and challenged.
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