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Plans made to reunify Brazilian boys with fathers, legal fight might not be over

People hold signs as they participate in the Families Belong Together march in Chicago last month. | Sun-Times file photo

Plans have been made to reunite two Brazilian boys held in Chicago with their fathers following weeks of separation under President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, one of their lawyers said Wednesday night.

However, their legal saga might not be over.

That’s because while the older boy, 16, will likely go free with his father after a reunion near the Mexican border, the younger boy, 9, will likely meet his father in Chicago. And then, the younger boy will likely be shipped with his dad to a family detention center in Berks County, Pennsylvania.

That’s according to Amy Maldonado, a member of the boys’ legal team which insists that holding them in the Pennsylvania facility violates a longstanding legal settlement. Additionally, U.S. District Judge Edmond Chang has said the younger boy is already suffering “severe anxiety and depression.”

Given that, Maldonado called the government’s decision to send the younger boy into detention “inhumane and unjust, and we believe it’s also unlawful.”

If the 16-year-old and his father go free, the father will likely be given an ankle monitor, Maldonado said. Both fathers are in the process of seeking asylum and have been held near the southern border.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment. However, government lawyers defended its actions in court Wednesday, telling Chang it is doing its best to comply with multiple court orders across the country.

“Nobody should feel sorry for us,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Oswald said. “This is a mess we’re trying to deal with.”

The feds have until 1:48 p.m. Thursday to reunite the two Brazilian boys with their fathers after a separation that has lasted since May 25. Chang gave the government 72 hours Monday to pull it off, calling the ongoing harm to the children “obvious and intense.” However, the judge said he had no authority to order the fathers released from the custody of immigration officials.

The judge said the Justice Department had failed to explain, “what objective it is trying to accomplish by keeping the boys separated from their fathers.”

Without that explanation, the judge said, “the government’s insistence on keeping these boys from their fathers can only be deemed arbitrary and conscience shocking.”

Justice Department lawyer Joshua Press told the judge earlier Wednesday he wasn’t sure if the boys would be moved into a detention center with their fathers, or if they would be released from custody together. But he said the government planned to comply.

The boys have been held in shelters run by the Heartland Alliance in Chicago. The Chicago Sun-Times recently gave a glimpse into their lives there — and published drawings by the 9-year-old.

The 16-year-old and his father came to the United States to flee a drug trafficker in their neighborhood targeting them with death threats, records show. The father of the 9-year-old owes $8,000 to a Brazilian loan shark involved in human trafficking.

Both pairs allegedly tried to enter the United States at a port of entry, only to be turned away. They later tried to cross outside of a port of entry and were detained. The fathers have pleaded guilty to illegal entry and were sentenced to time served before being returned to the custody of immigration officials, the judge said.

“They’ve served their time,” Chang wrote, adding that the children “have not been charged with any crime at all.”