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Father Alleges Being Separated From Son at the Border

November 30, 2017

By Alexandra Mendoza

A Salvadoran father is denouncing the separation from his one-year-old upon being placed into immigration custody.

Jose Demar Fuentes arrived at the border on Nov. 12, joined by his son Mateo, as part of a convoy of 35 Central American immigrants who turned themselves in at the San Ysidro Pedestrian Port of Entry to seek political asylum.

But he never imagined that once in the United States he would he be separated from his son, who is now in a shelter for unaccompanied immigrant minors in Texas.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement argues that kinship could not be verified between Fuentes and Mateo.

“Mr. Fuentes did not hand over a passport, birth certificate or other identification and the child is too young to answer questions from officers,” ICE spokeswoman Lauren Mack said.

“Historically, some criminal groups engaged in smuggling have joined adults with children who are unrelated to minimize the chances of being detained if they are arrested at the border,” Mack explained through a press release.

Thus the child was transferred to a shelter while Fuentes remains in the Otay Mesa Detention Center, waiting for the familiar bond to be determined.

Erika Pinheiro, a lawyer and member of activist organization Al Otro Lado, does not accept ICE’s explanation as she is sure that the Salvadoran immigrant had the necessary documents to prove that Matthew is his son.

“They’re trying to justify something that they really cannot justify,” denounced Pinheiro.

One day before the group of Central Americans turned themselves in, they took a workshop where lawyers verified all of their documentation.

“We took a copy of each document with which they entered and the father original birth child certificates,” said Pinheiro.

Al Otro Lado is considering filing a lawsuit against the federal government because as they claim that authorities have failed on their own policy of not separating families at the time of an arrest.

Customs and Border Protection’s manual on transportation, escort, detention and review, published in October 2015, states that, “a family unit will remain together as long as possible as long as there is no legal requirement or a clear safety concern requiring separation.”

Pinheiro denies that any security issue exists so they will proceed with legal action for failing to deliver a speedy reunion between Fuentes and his son.

This week, a group of human rights activists demonstrated outside the Otay Mesa Detention Center to demand answers.

From the sidewalk, using a megaphone, they sent messages of encouragement for the immigrant who is in despair due to his not knowing the about his son.

“If you can hear us, José, we are fighting for you to soon reunite with your son,” shouted Roberto Corona, a member of activist group Pueblos Sin Fronteras (People Without Borders), who was accompanied by members of other civilian organizations.

ICE has reiterated that it will, “continue in its efforts to determine the family relationship” in question.

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