“I don’t get the sense that the people who are in Aurora will be reunited today, so most likely the administration will violate that court order and miss the deadline here in Colorado,” said Nathan Woodliff-Stanley, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado.
Local and national ICE representatives did not return a request for comment about the number of immigrants remaining in the Aurora facility who are separated from their children .
Some of those in custody crossed the border, were apprehended and are being prosecuted for illegal entry under federal criminal law. Others were apprehended closer to the border and are in the process of being deported. Another group came to the border seeking asylum and haven’t been prosecuted, but were separated from their children under President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy. The president signed an executive order last month declaring an end to separating families at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Immigration attorney Astrid Lockwood said half of her estimated 20 clients — all moms, mostly from Guatemala — have been reunited with their children after being transferred from Aurora’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility to a Texas ICE detention center last week. The other half remain in Aurora’s ICE center because their children have been released to other family members within the U.S., Lockwood said.
Woodliff-Stanley said any consequences of the administration missing Thursday’s reunification deadline will be left to the courts to decide.
“I don’t know that there is a plan,” Woodliff-Stanley said. “The root problem with all of this is when the administration started separating families, they did it without putting in place a way to track people or any way to put them together. So they had to scramble to figure out systems under the court order.”
Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet issued a statement Thursday in which he pledged to continue to work with colleagues from both parties and the community to put pressure on the administration until every family is reunited.
“Tonight, the administration is rushing to meet a court-ordered deadline to reunite the more than 2,500 migrant children it separated from their parents,” Bennet wrote in a statement. “We expect the administration to claim it has met this deadline, even though hundreds of children will remain separated because they are ‘ineligible’ for reunification. That is unacceptable. It is not who we are as a nation.”
Lockwood said she is confident she’ll be able to see her clients through the reunification process.
The immigration attorney is relieved she’s already been able to hug clients released from ICE and watch them go on to meet up with their children. Lockwood has been traveling across the country meeting her clients and relying on volunteers like Denver’s Sarah Jackson with immigration advocacy organization Casa de Paz, who traveled to the ICE facility in Texas where Aurora detainees were sent on Friday.
“I’m seeing reunification happening, but it’s very confusing,” Jackson said.
Attorneys like Lockwood haven’t been notified of their clients’ release. The only way Lockwood has found out about her clients’ release or reunification is when they call her.
The calls are seared into Lockwood’s memory.
“I can hear their voice quivering,” Lockwood said. “That’s what gets me. I can hear the children in the background. You can hear the kids right up against the mom. They’re not letting them go.”
Some clients have been sending Lockwood photos of the moment they swept their children into their arms again.
“I smile the moment I see them,” Lockwood said. “It’s no longer Mom in blue detention center scrubs. Her hair is done. It’s a mother’s arms around her son. It makes me choke up just thinking about it. The woman in that photo is not the woman I met in the ICE detention center. It’s two different people. It’s kind of nice to meet her for the first time in that photo.”
After the hugs and joyful reunifications, Lockwood said there are difficult roads ahead.
Lockwood is starting the process of asylum cases with her clients.
“The biggest thing that we’re trying to prove — depending on each woman who has different types of cases like domestic violence, fleeing death threats from criminal organizations and such — is that their government is unable or unwilling to protect them,” Lockwood said.
Asylum cases, which Woodliff-Stanley said are legal and not the same as people entering the country illegally, can take anywhere from three to five years. Lockwood is getting initial hearings set in 2019 or 2020, but the timeframe is overshadowed for the moment by pictures of moms and kids together again.
“It’s absolutely amazing to see that and know that I helped get her there,” Lockwood said. “It makes all these long flights, sleepless nights and tears of frustration worth it.”