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El Salvador Pressures U.S. To Reunite Migrant Families


There is still plenty of confusion about what happens after children are separated from their parents at the border. There have been reports of parents being deported without being reunited with their children. The government of El Salvador, where many of these migrants come from, wants to stop that. Government officials there say they are refusing to accept deportees that have been separated from their children. It's an effort to pressure the Trump administration into following through on its promise to reunite migrant families. Emily Green reports from San Salvador.

EMILY GREEN, BYLINE: I'm at a migrant center now in El Salvador, and a busload of folks who have been deported from the U.S. have just arrived here in El Salvador, and they're arriving at the migrant center. Many of them are in line and they're waiting to use a telephone to call family members to come pick them up.

This week, the U.S. deported three Salvadoran parents whose children had been taken from them at the border. One father had no idea where his 6-year-old daughter was - another left behind his 7-year-old daughter. He also didn't know where she was. A third parent, a mother, had been separated from her 10-year-old son. The two were reunited after five days and deported together back to El Salvador. Hector Aquiles is a director of a Salvadoran government agency that seeks to protect immigrants and their families.

HECTOR AQUILES: We don't want the kids to be away from their parents. Our fear is that they can get lost in the process.

GREEN: He says El Salvadoran consulate in the United States is now refusing to take back parents separated from their children at the border. This is how it works. The U.S. government gives the El Salvadoran consulate a list of people it plans to deport. Now, the consulate will ask people on that list if they are parents and if their kids were taken from them. If the parent answers yes, and they don't want to leave their kids behind, the consulate won't issue them travel documents. The U.S. needs those documents to deport someone.

And there have been parents who have said, I do not want to be separated from my children?

AQUILES: Yeah, most of them say that.

GREEN: And El Salvador is not receiving that?

AQUILES: We are not receiving it until they get reunited.

GREEN: This is a strong stand by the Salvadoran government says Niloufar Khonsari, a San Francisco deportation defense attorney.

NILOUFAR KHONSARI: It's very rare that a consulate has pushed back and made a political statement like this, refusing to issue travel documents as a message to change policy. But it's very powerful.

GREEN: At the same time, many of the deported men arriving at the migration center have U.S.-born kids they left behind in the states.

29-year-old Enrique Antonio Valle lived in Los Angeles for six years, where he cleaned houses and worked as a mechanic.

ENRIQUE ANTONIO VALLE: (Speaking Spanish).

GREEN: He says his whole family is there - his mom, uncles, brothers, cousins and his 2-year-old son.

VALLE: (Speaking Spanish).

GREEN: He says he feels strange being back in El Salvador, scared, and he doesn't know what he's going to do. He wants to return to the U.S. While Trump's child separation policy has made him virtually a public enemy in El Salvador, President Obama actually deported far more people says Ana Solorzano (ph), who heads the migrant center. Between 2014 and '16, when Obama was president, around 23,000 Salvadorans were deported annually from the U.S.

ANA SOLORZANO: (Speaking Spanish).

GREEN: She says, in 2017, that dynamic changed completely and abruptly. Under President Trump, the number of Salvadorans deported has fallen by half. For NPR News, I'm Emily Green in San Salvador. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Emily Green