WASHINGTON — Angelica Gonzalez-Garcia answered the call from an unknown number with suspicion.
She was scared and alone in a small apartment in Framingham, desperate to find her 7-year-old daughter after they had been separated a month earlier without any explanation at an Arizona detention center. At the time, in mid-2018, the public was only becoming aware of what immigration lawyers along the US-Mexico border had long suspected: The US government was splitting migrant families apart not by incompetence or chance but as a matter of policy, a form of deterrence, as then Attorney General Jeff Sessions described it, to discourage others from coming north.
While Gonzalez-Garcia was shuffled from immigration facility to immigration facility, her daughter managed to call her grandmother in Guatemala from a shelter in Texas. The mother tried to connect with the girl by phone, and was able to reach an acquaintance willing to house them in Massachusetts. When Gonzalez-Garcia was released in Colorado, a social worker guided her to the airport for a flight to Boston.
Yet, no one — not the federal officials, the asylum officers, or the advocates — could tell her how to get the government to return her daughter.
...The first signs of hope in Gonzalez-Garcia’s long journey came with the phone call that summer night in 2018, from a stranger who insisted she let him stop by. As director of the Metrowest Worker Center, Diego Low focused on labor rights. But the Trump years had thrust organizations like his into new forms of advocacy as federal immigration vans became common sights in Framingham’s immigrant neighborhoods, and people pushed back against what they saw as harassment.
...Back in Boston, Church enlisted the help of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, the Nixon Peabody law firm, and the offices of Representative Katherine Clark and then Representative Joe Kennedy III. The two called various federal immigration agencies over Fourth of July weekend. They managed to get Gonzalez-Garcia an earlier appointment.
At the same time, she filed the first complaint in Massachusetts against the Trump administration over the separations. According to her complaint, she and her daughter, listed simply as “S.K,” arrived at an Arizona detention center around May 9, 2018, and formally pleaded for asylum, citing domestic violence, abuse, and discrimination.
The day after their arrival, when Gonzalez-Garcia learned Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials planned to take her daughter away, an agent asked her if they celebrated Mother’s Day in her home country, she recalled. When she said they did, he mockingly wished her “a Happy Mother’s Day.”
...President Trump finally caved in the face of international outrage and rolled back the family separation policy in June 2018. By then, the ACLU’s case was giving way to what would become a steering committee with members of nonprofits, including the ACLU, Kids in Need of Defense, and Women’s Refugee Commission, to assist the government in bringing families back together, but its members said their efforts were more often met with resistance from the government.
...In all, at least 5,500 children have been separated since July 2017. More than 600 parents of those children have still not been found. Attorneys estimate that at least 1,000 families were separated even after a federal judge in California halted the practice, as federal officials cited alleged doubts over whether the adults actually were the children’s parents. They also cited previous criminal charges, cases that were often years old, that had never resulted in conviction, and often involved minor offenses like littering or trespassing.
...In July 2018 — after Gonzalez-Garcia and her daughter had spent nearly two months apart — the federal government began to release some children, as it faced a looming court order and multiple lawsuits, including at least four filed by women in Massachusetts. Her daughter was one of those released. The video clips went viral, of Gonzalez-Garcia dropping to her knees, flanked by Clark, Low, and Church, as her daughter burst into a room at Logan Airport.
“Forgive me, my child, forgive me,” she sobbed as the two embraced.
Clark called it one of the most heart-wrenching moments of her life.
“Even though her situation, her life experience, couldn’t be more different from mine, that universal love of our children and wanting them to have a fair shot, opportunity, were really represented for me in Angelica,” she said.
People watched the reunion between Gonzalez-Garcia and her daughter with joy. But while it seems the world has moved on, she said every day is a battle for them.
She followed the November election and the Jan. 6 insurrection in anguish over what it could mean for the fate of her and her daughter, who have tried to make their home in Framingham. Biden’s words have brought some relief, but Gonzalez-Garcia still lives in fear of deportation and racism. Her daughter, now 10, wakes up in terror screaming in the middle of the night.
“Sometimes, she cries and tells me she wants to leave, and that the people here are mean, and I start to think that maybe we should flee to another country,” Gonzalez-Garcia said. “But I’ve fought so much, and I try to explain the best I can, that our lives are going to be better here.”
Original story here.