The Trump child-separation horror is far from over. According to the government’s own numbers, released late last week, as many as 3,000 children were yet to be reunited with their parents. On Tuesday, the administration failed to comply with a court order to return all children under the age of five to their parents; dozens are still in government custody.
In new court documents – released as part of state litigation against the Trump administration for breaking up these families – the voices of traumatized parents are front and center. In declarations made under penalty of perjury, the parents describe the anguish of having their children snatched away by the U.S. government, as well as sadistic behavior of the immigration officers who seem to mock and berate them.
As described in the testimonials, migrant mistreatment extended beyond separation – including detention facilities so cold they were referred to as “iceboxes,” bleach-tainted drinking water that burned asylum-seekers’ throats and still-frozen food that made them vomit.
Below is a selection of the parent testimonials, released in the case of the State of Washington, et al., v. Donald Trump.
Olivia Caceres (El Salvador)
Backstory: Caceres was traveling in a caravan with her 14-month-old (called “M.” in court documents) who became sick on the journey to the U.S. border. The father, “J.”, rushed ahead with the child, and the two were separated at the U.S. border crossing in San Ysidro, California, across from Tijuana.
Testimony: “I learned from other members of the caravan who crossed successfully…that immigration officers took M. from J. I felt as if someone had dumped a bucket of cold water on me… Finally, after 7 days of desperately searching for M., I was able to locate him in a shelter in Los Fresnos, Texas. [The child was taken in November 2017 and reunited with his mother – who was detained at the border but subsequently released in the United States in February 2018.]
I went to the Los Angeles airport, showed my identification, signed some documents and they returned M. to me. M. looked scared, he looked absent, he did not seem to capture that he was with me. He would only stare…. When I took off his clothes he was full of dirt and lice. It seemed like they had not bathed him the 85 days he was away from us…. M. is not the same since we were reunited. I thought that, because he is so young he would not be traumatized by this experience, but he does not separate from me. He cries when he does not see me.”
Angelica Rebeca Gonzalez-Garcia (Guatemala)
Backstory: The 31-year-old mother fled domestic abuse with her then seven-year-old daughter.
Testimony: “On May 10, 2018, the day after our arrest, Officers came into the room and told me that they intended to take my daughter away from me… Most devastating of all, the Officers said I would never see my daughter again. When the Officers told me this, I felt like collapsing and dying. I cannot express the pain and fear I felt at that point. My daughter was only seven years old and she was much too young to be taken from me.
“When I asked why, the Officers said that I had ‘endangered’ her by bringing her here… During this same conversation one of the officers asked me ‘In Guatemala do they celebrate mother’s day?’ When I answered yes he said, ‘Then Happy Mother’s Day,’ because the next Sunday was Mother’s day. I lowered my head so that my daughter would not see the tears forming in my eyes. That particular act of cruelty astonished me then as it does now. I could not understand why they hated me so much, or wanted to hurt me so much.”
Doris Arriagga-Pineda (Unspecified)
Backstory: Fleeing domestic violence.
Testimony: “On May 20th, I was detained. I requested asylum and they took me to the ‘icebox’ (la hielera), where I spent one day with my daughter… who is 6 years of age. We slept on the floor there, with only the aluminum blanket… On May 22nd, they took me to the court, when I got back, they had taken her away… The officer kept saying that I wasn’t my daughter’s mother… What worries me the most about my daughter is the separation… It is difficult for her to eat. She always cries. The day I called, she couldn’t speak. My life is my daughter.”
Gladys Monroy-Guerra de Tesucum (Guatemala)
Backstory: “I am afraid of returning to my country, because my cousin will kill me and my children. I caught him raping his step-daughter. He is a drug trafficker and he has killed more than 45 people. He told me, in writing with a note on my door, that he is going to dismember me. He has threatened my children as well. We had to flee….The police in my country cannot do anything to protect us.”
Testimony: “When I first spoke with ICE officers, they told us, ‘Why did you come from your country?’, ‘Don’t you know that we hate you people?’, ‘We don’t want you in our country.’
“My two children… fled with me and came in with me… They separated them from me, and they took me to court, where they condemned me as a criminal. No one asked me if I was afraid to return to my country or why I fled… There was no opportunity for me to say goodbye to my children. When I came back to the “dog kennel” (perrera), where we were being held, my boys weren’t there anymore… I didn’t know where they were…
“I am seeking refuge in the USA. We are being treated like criminals in chains and everything. I’m just seeking refuge.”
Maricela Batres (El Salvador)
Backstory: “I had a store in El Salvador. Members of the gang MS-13 demanded money as ‘rent.’ I do not have it, and they have said that if I do not pay $300 a month they will kill my son and me.”
Testimony: “I entered the USA on May 20, 2018 with my son. We were placed in the ‘kennel,’ where we sleep on the ground with a blanket made of aluminum. The officers told us our children would be taken from us for the crime of crossing the border… The officers said that the children would not return. One said ‘It is the price to pay for crossing the border. We do this so that when you return to your countries you do not return, and so you tell your relatives not to come because we will take your children from you.’ I do not know where my son is. I have had no communication with him. The consulate gave me a paper in English with a telephone number. When I call it, no one answers.”
Nery Flores-Oliva (Unspecified)
Backstory: “I came to the United States with my 6-year-old son, afraid after they killed my
husband’s two brothers.”
Testimony: “I entered the United States on May 14, in Reynoso. I was picked up and taken to the ‘icebox,’ a cold room. They treated us badly. My son was with me. The following day the officer told me that they were going to take my son to shower. And they sent me somewhere else, and they never returned with my son. I felt deceived. I never saw him again… I only ask that I be reunited with my son. He is young. He needs me.”
Yolani Karina Padilla-Orellana (Honduras)
Backstory: “I am a single mother. I received death threats and was afraid they would take my son in Honduras. That is why I decided to come with my son to the United States.”
Testimony: “When we arrived to the United States on May 18, the officers said… when would we stop coming? [and] that it would be better if a bomb were set off in our countries…. From there, my son Jelsin and I were separated. I was not told where he was being taken. They only told me he would be a ward of the state…. On the first day in the ‘icebox,’ they took me out to have my photo taken. I did not expect to see my son but they also brought him out so we could take a photo together… But they did not allow me to talk to him or hug him… That is the last time I saw my son.
While I was in the icebox, I was able to talk to an officer and I told him that I was afraid of returning to Honduras for the reasons I have stated. He told me I was going to be deported without my son. He told me I would be able to ask for my son 45 days after arriving in Honduras. Upon hearing this, I knelt down crying. The officer only laughed.”