Repercussions Of Family Separations Continue

Aug 17, 2019
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Two parents and two children left their home in Guatemala last year. They traveled north along with many other migrants. They arrived at the U.S. border while the Trump administration's family separation policy was in place. A judge ordered an end to the policy after six weeks in late June of 2018. Today, all but one family member has returned to Guatemala. As NPR's Carrie Kahn reports, the aftermath of their experience continues to take a toll.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Rudy Ramirez walks up the dirt road to his two-room concrete block house outside the southern Guatemala City of Jutiapa.

RUDY RAMIREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "This last year has been the worst I've ever lived," he says. Ramirez's hazel eyes look duller. He doesn't make eye contact when we speak now. And he's skinnier since we last met, almost exactly a year ago right after he was deported back to Guatemala.

R RAMIREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "The truth is it was a bad decision to have left with my whole family. The worst I've ever made," he says.

Ramirez says his family had been receiving death threats after his wife's brother was murdered. In May of 2018, Ramirez's wife, son and a niece fled for the U.S. Ramirez and the two kids crossed into the U.S. illegally and were arrested. His wife crossed later and was detained in Texas. As was the policy in the late spring, early summer of 2018, the kids were taken from Ramirez. His son Rudy Jr. (ph), then 9, was sent to a shelter in New York. His niece Jimena (ph), 12 at the time, was sent to one in Florida.

Ramirez was deported. These days he spends most of his time building a 15-foot tall security wall around his tiny home or he's down the street at his parents' house.

(SOUNDBITE OF GATE OPENING)

KAHN: A big gate opens to their large home, extended family members constantly come and go. A puppy and kitten scatter about. Ramirez's mom Esperanza (ph) says her son is severely depressed. The last year has been hard on everyone, especially when both her grandkids were in those U.S. shelters.

ESPERANZA RAMIREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "I only talked to the boy one time, and I couldn't even get words out," she says. "Both were crying so hard."

Her granddaughter Jimena, the one in Florida, was able to call more often but would just ask over and over when she would be released. Jimena's mom, Esperanza Ramirez's daughter, was already in the States awaiting an asylum claim. After three months, both children were released to their mothers and settled in Michigan right before winter hit. By December, both kids unaccustomed to the cold and struggling with English in a strange school begged to go back to Guatemala.

JIMENA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: As Jimena tells me in her grandmother's living room, she would get scared every time she saw a police officer. That's why she came back. She says everyone was nice at the shelter and every Saturday they got to go to a public park. But she didn't like sleeping alone in a room. At home, she sleeps with siblings and an aunt. She says she didn't cry while she was there, but she remembers everyone else crying, especially when they were first detained.

JIMENA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "When immigration got me, there were a lot of children separated from their parents. They cried so much," she says.

JIMENA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "I don't think it's right that they did that."

A judge ordered the Trump administration to stop separating kids back in June of 2018, but the ACLU says the practice continues and documented the cases of nearly 1,000 more children removed from their migrant parents. The Department of Homeland Security says separation only occurs when a child is in danger. The ACLU disputes that. DHS declined to comment for this story.

RUDY: A, B, C, D, E, F...

KAHN: For now, Rudy Ramirez Jr. is back in school in Guatemala studying reading and math, and he has a new kitten. His dad, Rudy Ramirez Sr., says he's not sure what damage the separation in three months in detention has done to his son. Ramirez says Rudy Jr. won't talk about it.

R RAMIREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "I missed him so much," says Ramirez, "and I'm so relieved he's back." But he says their family won't be complete until they're reunited with his wife who is still fighting for asylum in the U.S. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Jutiapa, Guatemala.

(SOUNDBITE OF KACEY MUSGRAVES SONG, “GOLDEN HOUR”) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.