Calling the ongoing harm to two Brazilian boys held in Chicago “obvious and intense,” a federal judge has ordered the pair reunited with their fathers within 72 hours following more than six weeks of separation.
However, U.S. District Judge Edmond Chang said he had no authority to order the fathers released from the custody of immigration authorities, so it’s still not clear how the reunification will occur.
Regardless, Chang said one boy is suffering “severe anxiety and depression,” while another told his father during a brief phone call, “Dad, I’m never going to see you again.”
The judge said Justice Department lawyers have failed to explain, “what objective it is trying to accomplish by keeping the boys separated from their fathers.”
And 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.”
The judge entered his order Monday. Lawyers in the case are due back in court Wednesday.
One of the boys turned 16 last week. The other is 9. Both have been held in shelters run by the Heartland Alliance in Chicago. The Chicago Sun-Times recently gave a glimpse into the boys’ lives here — 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 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.”
Amy Maldonado, a member of a team of lawyers representing the boys, said the judge’s order left the government with three options. It could immediately deport the fathers and their sons, it could place the boys with their fathers in a family detention center, or it could release the fathers and let their asylum cases proceed.
“We want their parents released and for them to have a full and fair asylum process,” Maldonado said.
A judge in California already ordered the government last month to reunite all separated families with children 5 or over within 30 days. Chang noted that the government claims not to have enough “family residential centers” to hold them all, so he said it “still might be” that the boys’ fathers will be released with their sons.
Though the judge expressed some concern about letting the two boys “leapfrog” others subject to the order in California, he said it’s clear the two boys in Chicago are suffering “extreme irreparable harm.”
There are reports regarding one of the boy’s “thoughts of self-harm and actual acts of self-harm, as well as harming others,” Chang wrote.
The California judge additionally ordered more than 100 children under the age of 5 reunited with their parents by Tuesday. The government said Tuesday it expected to reunify 38 by the deadline, and another 16 soon after.
U.S. District Judge Manish Shah also issued separate orders in recent weeks reuniting a pair of Brazilian boys held in Chicago with their mothers.