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NM churches helping to reunite immigrants

By Angela Kocherga/Albuquerque Journal (TNS) • Jul 22, 2018 at 8:00 AM

EL PASO, New Mexico — Churches in southern New Mexico are among places serving as temporary “hospitality centers” as the Trump administration picks up the pace of reuniting immigrant children separated from their parents at the border.

“We’re prepared. We have the space to receive 100, 110 individuals from reunited families,” said Ruben Garcia, director of Annunciation House, which provides temporary shelter for migrants and refugees in El Paso.

Ten churches will provide respite and shelter for reunited families, including Peace Lutheran Church, Holy Cross Retreat Center and Immaculate Heart of Mary Cathedral, all in Las Cruces, and St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Anthony.

The Trump administration is under a court-ordered July 26 deadline to complete the second phase of reunification, for children ages 5-17. More than 2,050 kids were taken from their parents, who were locked up under the recent zero-tolerance prosecution of everyone who crossed the border illegally.

A mother from El Salvador and a father from Honduras waiting in El Paso are among hundreds of parents who are eager to see their children again.

“It’s been too long,” Digna said Monday at a news conference organized by Annunciation House. She and the children were separated May 30.

“I won’t leave without you,” Digna said she promised her 9-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter.

She spent time locked up in the Otero County Processing Center in Chaparral.

The father from Honduras was separated from his 9-year-old daughter, Fabiola, on June 11.

“This has been a huge blow,” Mario said.

Both parents were released from custody June 24 with GPS tracking devices on their ankles while their asylum cases move through immigration court.

Many children who were separated from their parents were sent to shelters across the country, and reunions require flying children back to the border region. But Digna’s and Mario’s children are close by in El Paso in government-funded shelters run by private organizations.

“Her son and daughter live approximately 10 blocks away, and his daughter lives approximately 15 blocks away,” said Taylor Levy, legal coordinator for Annunciation House.

“We are demanding that the government make this reunification happen immediately, make this reunification happen today.”

Both parents met all the legal requirements for the return of their children, including providing proof they are the children’s parents, according to Levy.

Digna has had a chance to visit her son, William, and daughter, Stefanie, for an hour once a month in a public place under close supervision. She was disappointed they were not allowed to take a photograph together.

“I will always come back for you,” she said she reassured her children.

Mario brought his daughter a hamburger as part of a belated birthday celebration when he was able to visit her last week. She turned 10 at the shelter.

“You’re my princess,” I told her.

Both parents worry about the long-term effect the separation will have on their kids.

“She won’t ever be able to forget what they did to us,” Mario said.

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