Tuesday’s deadline had come and gone. But finally a trickle of families separated at the border were reunited in New York on Wednesday, even as more than 2,000 children remained in the hands of federal authorities.
The parents at 26 Federal Plaza in Lower Manhattan had waited all day Tuesday. There had been a glitch with the ankle bracelets they must wear, according to attorneys with Brooklyn Defender Services, which represented one of the parents. And at the end of a long day of anticipation, they had been taken back to detention. .
They were stirred again in the wee hours Wednesday and brought back to Manhattan, in handcuffs and leg chains. There, after being outfitted with ankle monitors that worked, they were taken to meet their children late in the morning.
“Mi amor!” Celia Del Carmen Delgado cried as she first saw her 3-year-old, Adela, after more than two months. They had left El Salvador — where they lived in a clay hut on the side of the road, she said, after a gang member came in and tried to rape Ms. Delgado, 33.
At first, she said, when she saw Adela again, the child just stared at her.
“It was as if she was remembering me,” Ms. Delgado said.
Then Adela started to cry.
While she was in detention in Texas, Ms. Delgado said, she was told by immigration authorities that deportation was the only way she would get her daughter back. At first she had agreed, she said, but when she learned she would be deported alone, she said, she resisted.
“And look where I am now,” said Ms. Delgado, putting her hand on her sleeping daughter’s leg.
It was still unclear on Wednesday how many of the 63 children under 5 in federal custody who appeared to be eligible under a court order from a California judge for immediate reunification had actually been returned to their parents.
The Departments of Health and Human Services and Homeland Security declined to provide specific numbers.
William Canny, an executive director at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops — one of two aid organizations that have been tapped by the government to provide emergency aid, such as food and shelter, to reunified families — said that his organization had helped with about 15 to 20 reunifications, which made up the “vast majority” of the total number that were completed. Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service had also helped some families, Mr. Canny said, and others might have forgone the offer for aid.
Lee Gelernt of the American Civil Liberties Union, who is representing the lead plaintiff in the California case, said he expected the government to try to finish all of the eligible reunifications before the deadline for its next status report on Thursday afternoon, in order to head off being reprimanded by the judge.
“If I’m them, I’m trying to finish 63 by Thursday,” Mr. Gelernt said.
The three families reunited in the Manhattan federal building on Wednesday caught up with their children, who snacked on chips and Goldfish crackers.
Denis Rivas opened a plastic bottle of orange juice for his little boy, Joshua, 4, whom he had last seen just over a month ago — they were separated the day after they crossed a bridge at the border and turned themselves over to the authorities, Mr. Rivas said. The two hadn’t spoken in all that time, he said. The little boy’s mother, back in Honduras, didn’t know where he was, either.
Asked about the moment of reunion, he said, “Incredible.” He held back tears. “I was filled with so much happiness to see him,” he said.
They too had fled gang violence, Mr. Rivas said.
A third family sat in a huddle. Maria Guinac held the youngest of her three boys, Gustavo Daniel, 3, who wore flashing Spider Man tennis shoes. They had been separated on May 18, she said.
The children had clean clothes and brand new backpacks. Their parents, on the other hand, wore the same clothes in which they had been detained. Mr. Rivas’s shoelaces and belt had been confiscated, along with the few other things he had brought with him on the journey from Honduras.
As lawyers and volunteers milled around the room, parents began making plans to join relatives in other parts of the country, where they will continue to be monitored by the federal authorities while their cases make their way through immigration court.
Mr. Rivas and Joshua were the first to leave, chauffeured to John F. Kennedy International Airport by a volunteer, who stopped to buy them lunch at McDonald’s. The other families piled into a taxi van to go to the home of another volunteer in Brooklyn, where they planned to shower and rest before waiting for flights and rides — the next stages in their journeys.
The mothers stepped into the sun, walking outside without handcuffs for the first time in months. They held their children close.
How did they feel?
“Free!” shouted Ms. Delgado.