(LOS ANGELES) — A Colombian migrant father reunited with his partner and 10-year-old daughter in Los Angeles after being apart for more than two weeks following their separation by U.S. border authorities in Texas.
The couple, Ambar and Jaen, made the treacherous journey to seek asylum in the United States with their daughter, Aranza. The couple asked ABC News not to use their last names because of safety concerns. Like many migrant families, they left everything behind in their home countries, fleeing what they say were unsafe conditions – all for a better future for their little girl.
“[It was] traumatic,” Jaen said. “It was a risky decision. We knew we had someone to take care of, our daughter. As a family, we felt we didn’t have another option.”
Reports of officials separating families at the border date back to 2017, under the Trump administration, as part of a policy of splitting up children from their parent or guardian at the border.
The Biden administration discontinued the mandated separation, but for some families who arrive in Texas, it’s still happening, according to Margaret Cargioli, directing attorney at Immigrant Defenders Law Center.
“Customs and Border Protection has continued to separate families where they question the validity of [their] relationship or, you know, they send adult males to detention centers in the United States,” Cargioli said.
When Ambar, Jaen and Aranza arrived at the border, border authorities initially classified them as a family unit.
“We told them we had formal legal document of our civil union from Colombia. They gave us bracelets and separated us from the group we arrived with. In that moment, no one explained anything to us,” Ambar said.
“Then they cut off our bracelets and took [Jaen]. They didn’t give me an explanation where they were taking him. The only response I was given was that’s how the laws are here,” Ambar said.
As Jaen was being led away, he recalls looking back at Ambar and his daughter.
“I didn’t want to leave, and I cried like never before,” Jaen said.
Jaen was taken to a detention center, while Ambar was left alone with her daughter and no money. She wondered what she would do until someone at the shelter in McAllen, Texas, offered her and Aranza seats on a bus headed to Los Angeles carrying 41 other migrants.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security said, “This report is troubling. We can both enforce our laws and treat human beings with dignity. Unlawful border crossings have gone down since our border enforcement plan went into effect. Managing our border in a safe and humane way works best when we all work together to respect the dignity of every human being and keep our communities safe.”
Unknown to Ambar at the time, the long bus ride to Los Angeles was part of a policy that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott established just over a year ago. More than 30,000 migrants have been bused from Texas to Democrat-led cities across the country.
There were 92,454 encounters between migrants and Border Patrol agents in July alone at the Texas-Mexico border, according to Customs and Border Protection. Abbott claims transporting migrants provides needed relief to overwhelmed border communities.
But his policies have faced sharp scrutiny from humanitarian organizations and advocates like Cargioli.
“Governor Abbott’s policy is causing real harm to real individuals,” Cargioli said.
Meanwhile, the mayors of New York City, Denver, Philadelphia and Los Angeles are calling on the Biden administration to grant federal assistance to deal with the influx of migrants in their cities.
Recently, New York City Mayor Eric Adams said the migrant crisis “will destroy” the city, saying it could cost another $12 billion to address the migrant crisis in the next few years.
Cargioli disagrees, saying that the city needs to work with “community members and organizations that are able to assist” and expand federal policies to help asylum seekers better assimilate in their communities.
Last month, the White House granted $77 million in congressional funding for communities receiving migrants. But some say money alone won’t mitigate the crisis.
The Biden administration has imposed new asylum restrictions on some who cross into the U.S. from Mexico. A similar policy was struck down during the Trump years.
“The Biden administration has not opened at the border as we’ve known it prior to the Trump administration. They’ve continued to use restrictive measures,” Cargioli said.
Ambar was finally able to contact her husband through a nonprofit organization after eight long days without any communication. Jaen was finally released from Port Isabel Detention Center in Texas and flown by an immigrant advocacy group to reunite with his family 17 days after their separation.
They are now living in New York and are hoping to be granted the chance to stay and build a life in the U.S.
“That this country grants us the opportunity to demonstrate that we deserve to be here. We come here to work, and do whatever it takes to stay here, whenever God allows it,” Ambar said.
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