An immigrant mother who has been separated from her daughter for months as a result of the Trump administration’s now-defunct “zero tolerance” policy remains in the Henderson Detention Center this week while the government lays out a proposal for reuniting the two and then deporting them together.
Federal court records show that a judge ordered another weeklong stay of deportation Friday for Olivia Aguilar-Bamaca, a single mom from Guatemala who arrived at the border on May 11, was subsequently separated from her 5-year-old daughter and was nearly deported without the girl against her wishes. Officials with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) were told to submit an updated plan for reunification by Wednesday and attend a status check on Friday.
Brian Ramsey, an attorney who represents the mother, said that representatives from the government indicated during a Friday hearing that Aguilar-Bamaca is one of 203 immigrants who still aren’t reunited with their children — in spite of a court order to reunify families — because of “other circumstances.” Upon questioning from the judge about how many of those 203 immigrants have been deported without their children, the government said that Aguilar-Bamaca is the only person in that group that hasn’t signed a “waiver of reunification,” according to Ramsey’s account of the hearing.
Government officials said that she wasn’t eligible for reunification by the July 26 deadline because the girl had been released to a sponsor — her uncle — by the time the court ordered reunification. But follow-up questions revealed that the girl was released to her uncle July 1, six days after the order of reunification came on June 26, Ramsey said.
Asked why Aguilar-Bamaca remains separated from her daughter, ICE spokeswoman Yasmeen Pitts O’Keefe said “due to pending litigation we were not able to discuss this case.” Ramsey contends there are no criminal issues in her background or questions about her relation to the girl that would disqualify her from reunification.
ICE officials have proposed a plan for bringing the two together: The uncle who is taking care of the girl in Florida will bring the child to an ICE location in that state, then the government will fly the girl to a family detention center in Dilley, Texas, where she’ll be reunified with her mother.
Ramsey is pushing to have no lag time at the family detention center before the reunification to avoid the risk of retraumatizing the mother and daughter, and he’s asking for professional therapy to be available to the family for the reunification.
Aguilar-Bamaca’s lawyer is also questioning the government’s assertion that his client is the only person out of 203 who didn’t waive the right to reunification but still remains separated from a child.
Aguilar-Bamaca hasn’t seen her daughter in about four months and wants to take the girl with her back to Guatemala. She told The Nevada Independent in a jailhouse interview last week that she sought to enter the U.S. because of difficult economic conditions and violence in Guatemala, but she wasn’t aware that the “zero tolerance” policy was in place that would lead to her being separated from the girl.
The single mother said she didn’t know for about a month where her daughter was and later learned that she was first taken to a shelter in New York and then sent to Florida, to stay with Aguilar-Bamaca’s brother. Aguilar-Bamaca didn’t pass a “credible fear interview” that could have allowed her to stay in the U.S. and seek asylum, and she remained at a detention center in Pahrump while a dozen other parents who passed the interview were transferred to Texas to be reunited with their children by a July 26 court-ordered deadline.
At the beginning of August, ICE moved Aguilar-Bamaca to Arizona in preparation to deport her. The woman’s brother alerted Ramsey, who filed an emergency motion to stop the process; that was successful.
Although other immigrant parents have opted to leave their children in the U.S. with relatives or foster parents in hopes of giving them more opportunities in the future, Aguilar-Bamaca does not want to be sent back to Guatemala without her daughter.
“She’s the only child that I have. She’s my life, and I can’t leave her in this country,” she told The Nevada Independent. “I ask God to give me the opportunity to stay in this country with my daughter. But if that’s not the will of God, I’ll take my daughter with me.”
This story was updated at 10:15 a.m. on Sept. 5, 2018 to add comment from ICE.