A migrant father was separated from his toddler earlier this week at Border Patrol’s central processing center in McAllen, according to attorneys with the Texas Civil Rights Project.
The 24-year-old father was taken to a local detention center while his 2-year-old daughter was transferred to an Office of Refugee Resettlement shelter after they were apprehended on or around July 5 while crossing the border, said Efrén Olivares, racial and economic justice director of the Alamo-based nonprofit.
“We were very surprised, very shocked because this should not be happening,” Olivares said upon learning of the separation during an immigration hearing at the McAllen federal courthouse Monday, where TCRP attorneys had not observed separations since President Donald Trump’s June 20 executive order putting an immediate end to his administration’s “zero tolerance” policy of separating migrant families who illegally crossed the border.
A San Diego judge subsequently issued a national injunction June 26 ordering the administration to reunite migrant children with their parents within 30 days.
The father, who Olivares identified as Mario Perez-Domingo, told TCRP staff that despite showing CBP agents his daughter’s birth certificate, she was removed from his custody.
TCRP staff had McAllen’s Guatemalan consulate confirm the authenticity of the birth certificate, and staff were able to get in contact with his family in Guatemala, who provided photos and documentation confirming the relationship.
“As far as we know, the government did not take any of these steps to verify whether or not Mr. Perez-Domingo was telling the truth and this was his daughter,” Olivares said. “But instead, on we don’t know what basis, they made the determination that she was not his daughter and separated her from him in violation of the injunction.”
Federal prosecutors dropped the criminal illegal re-entry case Friday against Perez-Domingo, who remains in the custody of U.S. Marshals as of Friday afternoon, according to Olivares. TCRP is working to reunite him with his daughter.
CBP did not respond to a request for comment on TCRP’s allegations against the McAllen processing center.
The agency confirmed it separates under three circumstances, which include when the Department of Homeland Security is unable to determine the familial relationship; if the child may be at risk with the parent or legal guardian; or when the parent or legal guardian is referred for criminal prosecution.
“We cannot sit back and expect the government to do the right thing,” Olivares said of why TCRP staff has continually monitored immigration hearings at McAllen’s federal courthouse since the executive order and the national injunction.
Olivares expressed concern that Perez-Domingo may not be the only parent separated from a child since the injunction, especially because many indigenous migrants like him — whose first language is Mam — have limited Spanish language proficiency.
“As long as the zero tolerance policy is in place, the separations could happen any day,” Olivares said.