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Mother And Son Reunite At Airport; U.S. Had Split Them Because Of Migrant Status

A Guatemalan mother and her son who were caught up in the Trump administration's zero tolerance policy along the southern U.S. border have now been reunited, after more than a month apart. The two held an emotional reunion early Friday morning, at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

"I started crying when I saw him, because he is the only child I have," Beata Mariana de Jesus Mejia-Mejia told reporters at the airport, in a translation from Spanish by the Associated Press. "I thank God because I have him here with me. He is now sad, but nobody is going to separate us again."

As Mejia-Mejia spoke, her son, Darwin, 7, stood by her side, seeming to struggle to take in the moment — but clearly relieved to be back with his mom.

To gain their release from custody and make Thursday night's reunion possible, Mejia-Mejia sued the U.S. government.

NPR's Adelina Lancianese reports for our Newscast unit:

"According to her lawsuit, Beata Mariana de Jesus Mejia-Mejia and her son crossed over the U.S. border into Arizona last month, fleeing domestic violence, and were immediately taken into custody. Two days later, border agents abruptly transferred her son to a juvenile detention center an hour away.

"After making bond, Mejia-Mejia filed a lawsuit against the federal government, which was settled before a Thursday hearing."

Mejia-Mejia's asylum case is still pending. For her lawsuit, she worked with Nexus Derechos Humanos, a law firm that specializes in human rights and immigration cases — and which is also linked to Libre by Nexus, a bail bond company that has been criticized for how it handles the cases of immigrants who are desperate to make bail. The company is the subject of at least one investigation; several lawsuits have also been filed against it.

The tearful reunion is one of several stories that have put a human face to the broad and deeply felt effects of the Trump administration's zero tolerance policy that has split more than 2,300 children from adults at the U.S. southern border, in cases where they had crossed into the country illegally.

Earlier this week, an audio recording of children crying at a large holding facility was released by ProPublica, fanning outrage and calls for a change in how the U.S. handles such cases. There is also growing pressure on the government to show how it plans to reunite the families it separated — a tough challenge, particularly in cases where children as young as 4 are involved. Many of them are now hundreds of miles away from their parents.

The recording at the detention center included the voice of 6-year-old Alison Jimena Valencia Madrid, who came to the U.S. from El Salvador with her mother. Amid the sounds of crying, the girl can be heard asking someone to call her aunt, and she clearly recited her relative's telephone number – a crucial clue that has helped her connect with her family.

"Jimena and her mom are being held in separate detention centers," as NPR reported Friday. "Jimena is in a facility in Phoenix, while her mom is detained more than 1,200 miles away in Port Isabel, Texas."

In a rare about-face, President Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday that ends his policy of separating migrant children from their parents, saying, "I didn't like the sight or the feeling of families being separated."

The president ordered Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to keep detained families in custody as the adults go through criminal proceedings — for some, simply for the crime of entering the U.S. illegally — and as their asylum claims work their way through the system.

Trump has blamed Congress — and specifically, Democrats, who do not currently control either house of Congress — for the current state of U.S. immigration policy, which has been shaped over recent years by lawsuits, court agreements and executive orders, rather than being driven by a comprehensive law.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.