The woman from Guatemala dropped to her knees and began sobbing when she heard the news, her lawyer says: She was granted bond, paving the way for her to be released from custody and reunited with her son.
The woman was one of at least nine asylum seekers who received an initial determination of bond in their favor on Wednesday, in what their lawyer described as a sign that the Trump administration is working to comply with a federal judge’s deadline for reunifying families.
The judge’s order, issued June 26, requires federal officials to reunify all parents with their children younger than 5 by July 10 and all parents with children who are 5 and older by July 26.
The nine adults were detained and separated from their children under the administration’s zero tolerance approach to prosecuting migrants suspected of entering the country illegally, lawyer Jodi Goodwin said. They were taken into custody by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement and held at the Port Isabel Service Detention Center in Los Fresnos, Texas. Only two of the adults have children still in Texas, Goodwin said. The other children are in Michigan, New York and California.
They adults applied for asylum and passed the first hurdle, the interview establishing credible fear of persecution, Goodwin said. Then came another promising sign for the fate of their families, Goodwin said. An ICE deportation officer granted an initial determination of bond in their favor.
Nine people is a small share of the number of detainees trying to reunite with the nearly 3,000 children thought to be separated who are subject to the court-ordered deadline. But it’s a meaningful step for those people, said Goodwin, who is representing more than 200 Port Isabel detainees who have been separated from their children.
Last week, ICE denied bond for other asylum seekers who had passed their credible fear interviews, she said. As the family reunification deadline looms, this week’s determinations suggest ICE is taking a new approach with asylum seekers who had established credible fear, she said.
“This is a sign that there is at least some recognition that by giving the parents bond it allows them the opportunity to get out and to work on that reunification themselves as opposed to just relying on the government,” Goodwin said.
“Representatives from two other legal advocacy nonprofits, Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services and Texas Civil Rights Project, each said that they had a client seeking asylum who was granted bond on Wednesday.”
But the process is far from over. Goodwin said bond amounts for her nine clients ranged from $1,500 to $2,500. Unlike in the criminal justice system, they must pay in full before they are released.
Then, they have to work through the Office of Refugee Resettlement to locate their children and regain custody of them. After that, they must secure the means to reach their children or find someone who can escort them to where they are, Goodwin said.
“It could take weeks but that’s a lot closer than we are [with] individuals sitting in detention without bond at all and no plan to be able to get them back with their children,” Goodwin said.
Human rights attorney Sara E. Dill said she is working with two of the nine clients who received bond. She said she hopes more asylum seekers will be granted bond. But she noted that the first hurdle is the higher one: passing the credible fear test.
“If they’re not finding that the person has a credible fear of persecution, then they’re given a removal order. And while we can take it before [an immigration judge], the question is, is the immigration judge going to overturn the finding or not?”
Based on experience, Dill said outcomes in the detainees’ favor are unlikely.
The families hope to post bond on Thursday for her two clients, she said. Then, they have to raise funds to leave Texas and be reunited with their families, she said. “They scrape, they borrow, they do everything they can, and these are people who are destitute.”
The confusion over plans for reunification, plus the fact that more people have not been released, does not bode well for the administration’s chances of meeting the deadline, she said.
“I think the fact that they didn’t have a plan in place going into this, the fact that parents aren’t even being told where, specifically, their children are tells me the government may not even know.”
CNN’s Miguel Marquez reported from Harlingen and Nick Valencia reported from Los Fresnos. Emanuella Grinberg reported and wrote this story in Atlanta.