Judge to Rule on Custody of Separated Immigrant Child
BROWNSVILLE - A judge could soon decide the direction a young immigrant child's life could take.
The child was separated nearly a year ago; the father was deported and opted to leave his little boy behind in the U.S.
The boy had received a death threat in his native home country, after the father was tortured for his faith and refusal to join criminal organizations.
For six months, a Texas family waited to offer their home to the eight year-old Guatemalan boy separated when he was seven years old in the Rio Grande Valley.
The child was left in the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement at a Raymondville facility.
The parents of the boy selected a sponsor who could take him into their Central Texas home.
The mother selected by the Guatemalan couple was at the evidentiary hearing Monday.
During the proceedings, it was disclosed the child had exhibited signs of trauma, including showing aggression with his peers and breaking the rule of hugging other children.
Holly Sewell, the sponsor selected by the minor's family, said she and her husband were motivated to open their homes to the child because that's what they would want for their own family.
"We would want them to be in a family home where they could be hugged. They don’t allow hugging in these facilities. Children need to be hugged, they need love and we are a family full of love."
The government said they could not consider the Sewell family due to a new rule that required they knew the immigrant family prior to entering the United States.
That rule was adopted to avoid human trafficking of children, according to the attorney representing the government.
The ORR instead announced they chose another family who can house the child.
That household is predominantly Spanish-speaking and has experience with Central American children.
The eight year-old Guatemalan boy's primary language is K' iche', a native Mayan tongue, he learned Spanish during his detention.
A child psychiatrist testified that if they separate the child after he and the selected sponsor family created extensive bonds and expectations over months, it would be like putting the boy through another family separation.
The ORR said they normally handle placement of immigrant children who come into the country on their own.
Ricardo de Anda, attorney for the child, says, "So, their system is not set up to deal with these children who are still part of a family as opposed to an unaccompanied minor who came up here on his own. His children are still part of a family structure and ORR has no system in place to deal with these specific cases."
Out of the 60 children currently at the Raymondville facility, about seven or eight of those children are said to be there for six months or longer.
This month makes 10 months in custody for the boy who was returned to the facility after the hearing Monday.
The judge can rule a few different ways, he can decide the ORR should evaluate and consider the sponsors selected by the parents in spite of their rule.
He can also decide to allow the child be released to the selected sponsors; a decision could come sometime this week.