SAN DIEGO — Immigrant parents who reveled after joyful reunions with their young children spoke Wednesday of the traumatic impact of being separated from their sons and daughters for months after they were taken from them at the U.S. border.
The administration has been scrambling to reunify the families this week to meet the first of two deadlines set by a federal judge in San Diego who ordered thousands of children be given back to their immigrant parents. Scores of children separated from their families were sent to government-contracted shelters or foster care hundreds of miles away from where their parents were detained.
Roger Ardino, from Honduras, was happy to be back with his 4-year-old son, Roger Jr., who sat on his lap and played with the microphones as the father spoke to reporters. The father said he was still shaken by the ordeal he had to go through just to speak to his boy while he was in government custody. The two were separated in February.
He described feeling a pain in his heart and like he couldn't breathe after his son was taken away. The father held up his wrist and told reporters that after they were separated, he threatened to use a razor on himself if he couldn't speak to his son.
He spoke Wednesday at Annunciation House, an El Paso, Texas-based shelter, along with another father recently reunited with his child. They arrived there Tuesday.
"I was completely traumatized," the father said in Spanish. He added later: "Every time I spoke to him, he would start crying. Where are the rights of children? I thought children were supposed to be a priority here in the United States."
The father said he planned to live with relatives in the United States as his asylum case is processed, which could take years.
It wasn't immediately clear how many children remain in detention facilities.
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Fourteen-year-old Hermelindo Juarez, second from left, looks around at his home country, Tuesday, July 10, 2018, as he and his father, Deivin Juarez, left, step off a chartered flight from the U.S. in Guatemala City, Guatemala, after the two were deported. They and 11 other families who were separated by the Trump administration were returned to Guatemala. (AP Photo/Colleen Long)
Families separated under President Donald Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy return home to Guatemala City, Guatemala, Tuesday, July 10, 2018, after being deported from the United States. After lining up on the tarmac, they headed to a processing center where they were screened and given identification before being released back into the country. (AP Photo/Colleen Long)
Hermelindo Che Coc, of Guatemala, holds back tears prior to a required check-in with immigration enforcement authorities in Los Angeles on Tuesday. Che Coc says his 6-year-old son feared he was dead after U.S. authorities separated the pair on the U.S.-Mexico border after they crossed into Texas in May. He says authorities told him he would be detained and his son was sent to a shelter in New York.
Hermelindo Che Coc, of Guatemala, kneels as Father Tom Carey, left, Rev. David Farley and Rev. Matthias Peterson-Brandt, right, pray over him before a required check-in with immigration enforcement authorities on Tuesday in Los Angeles. Che Coc says his 6-year-old son feared he was dead after U.S. authorities separated the pair on the U.S.-Mexico border after they crossed into Texas in May. He says authorities told him he would be detained and his son was sent to a shelter in New York.
Donelda Pulex and her 5-year-old daughter Marelyn, step off a chartered flight from the U.S. in Guatemala City, Guatemala, after the two were deported after being separated crossing the U.S. border. Pulex said she was tormented by the idea she’d never see her child again. (AP Photo/Colleen Long)
Fourteen-year-old Hermelindo Juarez, right, and his father, Deivin Juarez, step off a chartered flight from the U.S., Tuesday, July 10, 2018 in Guatemala City, Guatemala, after the two were deported. They were separated for weeks and Juarez said he wasn’t sure he’d see his son again. (AP Photo/Colleen Long)
A Honduran woman ordered deported in 2016 is taking sanctuary with her two young daughters at a church in Salt Lake City. Vicky Chavez is vowing to fight her asylum case and seek relief from a federal appeals court. (July 10)