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Mom and 9-year-old son reunited after pair separated at US border

Lidia Souza, her nine-year-old son Diogo and their attorneys walk out of the office of Heartland Alliance in Chicago. Diogo and Souza were reunited Thursday, after Judge Manish Shah ordered the Brazilian boy's release. Souza and her son were separated at the U.S.-Mexico border. | Pat Nabong/For the Sun-Times

Lidia Souza wouldn’t take her hands off her son Thursday afternoon.

After a month of separation from her 9-year-old boy, Diogo, the Brazilian mother flew to Chicago to get her son back. She went all the way to a federal judge. And on Thursday, U.S. District Judge Manish Shah ordered the boy’s immediate release.

The boy had a smile on his face as he walked with his mother out of a building near the old Uptown Theater. And later, at a press conference at the law firm of Mayer Brown, Souza looked relieved.

“When I got there, he already knew that I was taking him home,” Souza told reporters through an interpreter. “I said, ‘Who told you?’ And he goes, ‘I woke up this morning, and I had a feeling.”

Then she added, “I am so happy.”

Souza’s lawyers said Shah “vindicated the rule of law” with his order. They also said they hope it benefits families in similar circumstances.

Diogo’s release followed a hearing in Shah’s courtroom Thursday morning. Souza’s attorneys say she tried to properly seek asylum but she was arrested by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent on May 30.

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Souza passed a credible fear interview entitling her to a full asylum hearing, her attorneys have said. But under President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy, the pair were separated. 

The mother has been free on her own recognizance since June 8 while her asylum petition is being processed.

But Thursday, government lawyers said — while Souza watched from the gallery — that her son had been labeled an “unaccompanied child.” They also said they wanted time to perform more background checks on people living in the home in Massachusetts where Souza and the boy are expected to reside.

Hours later, Shah handed down a ruling that said the separation of Souza and Diogo “irreparably harms them both.” It ordered Diogo released to Souza immediately.

Diogo soon appeared before a throng of reporters wearing a grey, long-sleeved T-shirt, jeans and Crocs. He said other children in the shelters “are suffering a lot,” and he described how he spent time in isolation because he had chickenpox.

“I cried almost every day when I wasn’t with my mother,” he said through an interpreter.

Souza’s lawyers have said she only realized Diogo was being held in Chicago with the help of another woman she had been detained with. She said a hotline given to her to help locate him did not work.

She said she intends to immediately celebrate her son’s birthday. Then she said she wants to go home, work, and “be able to be by my child’s side.”

Asked what she would say to Trump about the policy that separated her from her child, Souza said, “This is terrible.”

“Don’t do this to the children,” she said. “They shouldn’t be involved in this. They’re not deserving to go through the suffering.”