Lupe Serrano hasn’t seen her son Danny in over a month.
He turned nine years old on Wednesday, but he spent his birthday miles away from his family – with strangers – in foster care.
“That’s probably what hurts the most right now,” said his mother. “I don’t even know if I can call him, as I only have one twenty-minute call a week.”
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Danny is one of about 3,000 children still being detained without his parents due to the president’s zero tolerance policy.
He and his mother were separated in late May after they crossed into the U.S. from Mexico illegally, hoping to gain asylum after fleeing the violence in Honduras.
“I only remember he was crying, and I had to go,” said Lupe.
“Then for 20 days, no one told me where he was.”
That’s when officials called Nila Serrano, Danny’s aunt and Lupe’s sister-in-law, to inform her of the situation. But it was only days later that the family found out Danny had been shipped halfway around the country — to New York City.
Lupe was released two weeks ago and is now with family in Maryland, but Danny is still in foster care.
“He says he’s fine, he did get some new clothes, you know, he says he’s being treated well, he has his own bed,” explained Nila.
“But he’s quiet. He’s very quiet,” she added. “We don’t know what the long-term effects are going to be.”
This week the Trump administration missed its own deadline to reunite children under the age of five with their families.
“The government didn’t track these families,” said the ACLU’s Lee Gelernt. “They didn’t have clear records about which children belonged to which parents.
But even for Nila, who knows exactly where her nephew is, and who even has a room ready for him, applying to sponsor Danny has turned into a bureaucratic nightmare—complete with a home inspection, background checks, legal fees and fingerprinting.
“It’s just, like, one thing after another, after another,” said Nila.
The process becomes even more complicated when the children’s relatives living in the U.S. are undocumented themselves.
A new Trump-era policy dictates that the fingerprints and immigration status of those applying to sponsor these children can be shared with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
In Baltimore, the Esperanza Center is stepping in to help possible sponsors navigate the process.
“Certainly, that makes people much more anxious and concerned and fearful that if they do apply then they may wind up being deported themselves,” explained Valerie Twanmoh, the centre’s director.
Nila, for her part, says she’s going to keep fighting for her nephew until he is back where he belongs—in his mother’s arm.
“You would help your family,” she said. “That’s what I’m doing.”
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