Immigrant children, parents reunited faster under new court order

When Yolany Padilla was released from immigration custody in Seattle last week, she assumed she would be quickly reunited with her 6-year-old son, who had been taken from her at the US-Mexico border two months earlier.

But caseworkers at Cayuga Centers in New York, where the boy had been placed, told her lawyer that the government’s vetting process for reunification would take time. Fingerprint collection and analysis alone could take 60 days, and there would also be background checks of all the adults with whom she and her son would stay. It would likely be weeks before her son could be returned to her.

“I didn’t want to believe that could be true,” said Padilla, who comes from Honduras and is seeking asylum in the United States. “It hurt so much to even think it could be 60 days.”

That estimate changed abruptly on Thursday night after a federal judge’s order that the government streamline some vetting procedures for reunifying parents and children. Padilla’s lawyer, Leta Sanchez, received a call from Cayuga Centers’ general counsel saying the case had been referred for expedited processing.

On Saturday, Padilla and her son, Jelsin, were reunited at the Seattle airport, where he was flown from New York. Padilla ran to her son as he entered the airport waiting area, dropping to her knees and embracing the small boy as he smiled broadly.

"It's been so long since I've seen him, imagine how I feel inside," Padilla said, speaking through a translator at the airport after the reunion. "It was like my heart was going to come out of my body,”

Several immigration attorneys reached by Reuters said they had seen similar expedited reunions following a July 10 order by US District Judge Dana Sabraw in a case brought against the government by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The judge had previously ordered the government to reunify by July 26 as many as 2,500 immigrant children it had separated from their parents at the US-Mexico border in recent months. The separations were part of President Donald Trump's efforts to crack down on illegal immigration, though some of the separated families are also asylum seekers. That policy was abandoned in June in the wake of widespread protests.

On July 10, after examining how an initial wave of reunifications of young children had gone, Sabraw concluded that government vetting policies could be streamlined to speed the process.

Reunifications should not be delayed by “lengthy background checks,” the judge wrote, noting that such checks would not have been performed if the parents and children had never been separated.

Like Padilla, Yeni Gonzalez and Rosayra Pablo-Cruz were also beneficiaries of that order, their attorney believes.

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