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Brazilian mother separated from son arrives in Chicago seeking to regain custody

Lidia Souza and her son, Diogo, were separated at the U.S.-Mexico border. She has not seen her son in weeks. | Provided photo

A Brazilian mother separated from her 9-year-old son at the Mexican border late last month while seeking asylum arrived in Chicago Tuesday morning, hoping they could be reunited.

And for one hour, they were — but a final hurdle remains before Lidia K. Souza can regain custody of her son Diogo from the Chicago-based non-profit organization that’s looking after him: the Office of Refugee Resettlement must sign off on his release.

“Despite a willingness to help, they just haven’t signed the document,” immigration attorney Jesse Bless said Tuesday morning outside the Dirksen Federal Courthouse in the Loop, standing beside his tearful client.

“Today I just want to leave here with my son,” Souza said through a translator.

Late Tuesday afternoon, Bless said mother and son briefly had been reunited “at a separate location from the facility in Chicago where he is being detained,” but custody had not been granted.

“It was an extremely emotional meeting and even more emotional parting – for a second time – as officials would not allow the child to be released into the custody of his own mother,” the attorney said in a statement.

Video by Mitch Dudek | Immigration attorney Jesse Bless and his client Lidia Souza (via translator)

As a result, Bless said they filed for an emergency hearing, the latest step in a process that has been mired in bureaucratic red tape and immigration policies that seem to be shifting by the hour under the administration of Donald J. Trump, the attorney said.

The pair presented themselves to immigration officials at the U.S.-Mexico border on May 29.

“She passed a credible fear interview entitling her to a full asylum hearing,” Bless said, declining to elaborate on how their lives were in danger in Brazil.

Under Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, the pair were separated.

However, the policy of separating families at the border, which came under intense scrutiny for the psychological damage it poses to children, has since been suspended.

“They’ve rolled back zero tolerance, they’ve admitted now that it was zero thought and zero planning. So if she were to enter [the United States today], we wouldn’t be in this situation,” Bless said.

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Lidia Karine Souza, a migrant from Brazil who was separated from her 9-year-old son Diogo shortly after entering the United States, listens as her attorney Jesse Bless (left) speaks with reporters during a press conference outside the Dirksen Federal Cour
Lidia Karine Souza, a migrant from Brazil who was separated from her 9-year-old son Diogo shortly after entering the United States, listens as her attorney Jesse Bless (left) speaks with reporters during a press conference outside the Dirksen Federal Courthouse in Chicago, Tuesday morning, June 26, 2018. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

After initially being detained by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, Souza was released June 9 to stay with relatives in Massachusetts.

The two have been allowed 20 minutes on the phone per week and Souza, having used up her allowed phone time, was unable to talk to her son on his birthday this month, Bless said.

During one of their chats “he told his mother that he does not feel well,” Bless said, declining to elaborate.

During phone calls, Diogo also “frequently cries and begs Ms. Souza to do everything in her power to get him out of the shelter and back into her care,” according to their complaint.

Processing Souza’s application to regain custody of her son could take more than 20 days, meaning the boy might not be released until late July, Bless said. A total of sixty-six children separated from their families at the border in recent weeks are being temporarily housed in shelters across Chicago, Sen. Dick Durbin said Friday.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago declined to comment when reached Tuesday. And a representative for the Department of Justice did not return an email seeking comment.

Bless produced two stuffed animals from his backpack that he commandeered from his own twin sons in order to have an on-the-spot birthday gift if the boy had been released Tuesday.

Bless said he’s in ongoing discussions with Department of Justice attorneys who are reviewing the complaint he filed Tuesday.

Lidia Karine Souza, 27, a migrant from Brazil who was separated from her 9-year-old son Diogo shortly after entering the United States seeking asylum, listens as her attorney Jesse Bless speaks with reporters outside the Dirksen Federal Courthouse in Chic
Lidia Karine Souza, 27, a migrant from Brazil who was separated from her 9-year-old son Diogo shortly after entering the United States seeking asylum, listens as her attorney Jesse Bless speaks with reporters outside the Dirksen Federal Courthouse in Chicago on Tuesday. The boy is in a Chicago facility and, as of Monday, it has been 26 days since Souza had seen her son. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Unfortunately, Souza’s situation is not unique.

The parents of more 2,000 children who were separated at the U.S. border now face similar bureaucratic headwinds in their struggles to rejoin their kids.

The complaint Bless filed Tuesday comes days after two other lawsuits were filed in federal court seeking to re-unite two other Brazilian boys being held in Chicago — ages 9 and 15 — with their parents.

Their families also fled dangerous situations in Brazil and were seeking asylum in the United States, according to the suits.

“There are a lot of Brazilian children in Chicago,” Bless said. “They are grouping these children by nationality.”

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