The clock is ticking for the Justice Department to end the separation of two Brazilian boys held in Chicago from their fathers under President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy.
It has only until 1:48 p.m. Thursday. And Wednesday morning, its lawyers still couldn’t tell a federal judge how it planned to reunite the fathers and sons. The boys have been separated from their dads since May 25.
Meanwhile, the government has also struggled to meet a California judge’s deadline, which passed Tuesday, to reunite children under the age of 5 with their parents following separations at the border.
“This is a mess we’re trying to deal with,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Oswald told U.S. District Judge Edmond Chang.
Oswald made his comment while one of the two Brazilian boys, a 16 year old, sat at a table in Chang’s courtroom. He celebrated his birthday Friday with the other boy, who is 9, and their lawyers, who said they brought along a cake from Chinatown.
The children also had a chance during the celebration to chat by video with their mothers who are in Brazil, said Karen Hoffmann, a member of the boys’ legal team.
“That was the first time they had seen a face of their parent in, you know, more than six weeks,” Hoffmann said after court Wednesday in the lobby of the Dirksen Federal Courthouse.
Chang ordered the government Monday to reunite the boys with their fathers within 72 hours, calling the ongoing harm to the children “obvious and intense.” However, he said he had no authority to order their fathers released from the custody of immigration officials.
Justice Department lawyer Joshua Press told the judge Wednesday he wasn’t sure if the boys would be moved into a detention center with their fathers, or if they would be released from custody together. But he said the government planned to comply.
Hoffmann said a facility in Berks County, Pennsylvania, is the only family detention center in the country that has been used to hold fathers. But she said moving the fathers and sons there would violate a long-standing court settlement.
Still, the boys’ lawyers said their top priority was to reunite them with their fathers.
In his order Monday, Chang said one boy was suffering “severe anxiety and depression,” while another told his father during a brief phone call, “Dad, I’m never going to see you again.”
The judge said the Justice Department had failed to explain, “what objective it is trying to accomplish by keeping the boys separated from their fathers.”
Without that explanation, the judge said, “the government’s insistence on keeping these boys from their fathers can only be deemed arbitrary and conscience shocking.”
The boys have been held in shelters run by the Heartland Alliance in Chicago. The Chicago Sun-Times recently gave a glimpse into their lives there — and published drawings by the 9-year-old.
The 16-year-old and his father came to the United States to flee a drug trafficker in their neighborhood targeting them with death threats, records show. The father of the 9-year-old owes $8,000 to a Brazilian loan shark involved in human trafficking.
Both pairs allegedly tried to enter the United States at a port of entry, only to be turned away. They later tried to cross outside of a port of entry and were detained. The fathers have pleaded guilty to illegal entry and were sentenced to time served before being returned to the custody of immigration officials, the judge said.
“They’ve served their time,” Chang wrote, adding that the children “have not been charged with any crime at all.”
Source: Chicago sun