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Lawsuits detail sad stories of two immigrant boys held in Chicago, far from dads

The Dirksen Federal Courthouse in Chicago. | Google Streetview image

Two children who fled crime in Brazil with their fathers wound up being detained in Chicago — a thousand miles from their parents — as a result of the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance immigration policy, a pair of federal lawsuits claim.

A 9-year-old boy whose father was detained in New Mexico was “very scared, sad, and desperate to be reunited with his father,” one lawsuit alleges. The other, a 15-year-old boy whose father was held in Texas, was “extremely unhappy and upset,” according to the other complaint.

The lawsuits are part of the fall-out from the Trump Administration’s forced separations of migrant families. President Donald Trump signed an executive order Wednesday to end those separations after days of heart-wrenching images of children being pulled from their migrant parents along the nation’s southern border.

Karen Hoffmann, a lawyer for the Pennsylvania-based ALDEA – The People’s Justice Center, helps represent the two children being held in Chicago. She said their families believed, after Trump signed his order, the fathers and sons would be reunited.

“Unfortunately, that’s not the case,” Hoffmann said.

Meanwhile, Mayor Rahm Emanuel issued a statement that said the housing of the separated children in Chicago “is further proof of the heartbreak” Trump has caused.

“These children should never have been taken from their families in the first place,” Emanuel said.

The two complaints target Attorney General Jeff Sessions and other government officials, alleging violations of a long-standing legal settlement requiring detention facilities to provide, among other things, contact between minors and family when arrested together.

The Heartland Alliance, a nonprofit that has resettled unaccompanied migrant children in Chicago and across the Midwest for more than 30 years, earlier confirmed that it “recently” provided “safe shelter and care” for children who have been separated from their families at the border. However, it did not say how many children are currently being held in its facilities.

Heartland is also named as a defendant in the two lawsuits. Amy Maldonado, a lawyer in Michigan also helping to represent the children, said that’s because Heartland has claimed it is “too logistically difficult” to put the fathers in touch with their children.

The Justice Department declined to comment. The Heartland Alliance did not respond to messages seeking comment.

The lawsuits, filed Wednesday, shed light on the stories of the two children being held here after their fathers sought asylum in the United States. They seek to reunite the children with their parents.

The father of the 9-year-old boy fled Brazil because he owes $10,000 to a human-trafficking group, according to one. He can’t pay his debt and, if returned to Brazil, he fears he and his child “will be forced to work for the organization in indentured servitude.”

The lawsuit claims the man tried to enter the United States at a Port of Entry but was told it was “closed.” Then, on May 23, he and his son were taken into custody near the Mexican border. When he was separated from his son, they were told it would only be for a few days, the complaint alleges.

The child was sent to the Heartland International Children’s Rescue Center in Chicago, and the father was eventually held in New Mexico, according to the lawsuit.

Three weeks later, they still had not been reunited.

The second lawsuit tells a similar story of a 15-year-old.

It said drug traffickers suspected the boy and his father had given police information that led to an arrest. The father and son fled to the United States out of fear for their safety, only to be detained May 23.

Hoffmann said that pair also tried to enter the United States through a Port of Entry.

The boy was taken to the Heartland center in Chicago, and the father was eventually held in Texas, according to the lawsuit. After nearly a month apart, they managed to speak once, by phone, before the lawsuit was filed.

Contributing: Carlos Ballesteros