Lawyer for Immigrant Mother Separated from 3 Children Says There's 'No' Guarantee of Reunion
"I am in charge of keeping track of a ghost," attorney Jose Xavier Orochena tells PEOPLE
One immigrant mother’s three young children are now in New York after being detained and separated from her at the Texas border over a month ago — and, despite the recent policy reversal, it’s unclear when and if the family will be reunited.
In a Wednesday interview, New York immigration attorney Jose Xavier Orochena tells PEOPLE his client “Yeni” (Orochena declined to reveal her full name) attempted to enter the U.S. after fleeing “extreme violence” in Guatemala earlier this year, but was detained. At some point after the detainment, the children — ages 5, 8 and 10 — were ultimately separated from their mother and taken to New York.
Initially contacted by Yeni’s family members in North Carolina to track down the children — who are being held at the Cayuga Center in Harlem — Orochena will now plead the mother’s case in court on July 3.
The children are just some of the 2,342 who were separated from their parents since May after crossing the southern U.S. border as part of the Trump administration’s “no-tolerance” immigration policy.
Now — in the wake of President Trump signing an executive order reversing his own policy of separating migrant families entering the country illegally — Orochena is focused on getting Yeni released on bond from the Arizona detention center where she’s being held, and then reuniting her with her children.
Orochena says the children have a social worker, who allows Yeni to speak with them over the phone. Unfortunately, the social worker won’t divulge any details about the children’s custody to him.
“I can only imagine what kind of assurances or lies the mother has to tell her children just to make sure they’re fine and taken care of,” says Orochena.
While Orochena can track Yeni through her alien number — which he describes as a “social security number for immigration purposes” — “it’s not the same for children.”
He explains, “For children, they cannot divulge public information.”
“I am in charge of keeping track of a ghost,” says the attorney.
RELATED VIDEO: President Trump Says He’ll Sign Executive Order Reversing His Child Separation Policy
On Thursday, the Trump administration reportedly did yet another about face. A senior official from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection told the Washington Post that it will stop prosecuting parents who cross the border with their children. The official added to the Post that many families will likely be released from custody while waiting for their appointed court hearings due to space issues.
Still, it has not been definitively said if these new orders will be applied retroactively to the children already far from their parents.
“Unfortunately, I believe that we’re going to have to fight our case the traditional way of applying for a bond,” Orochena tells PEOPLE. “I’m hoping it will be reasonable. A bond can be set anywhere between $1,500 to $25,000. If it’s $25,000 my client will stay in custody.”
He continues, “Immigrant families, they can’t come up with a high bond. I’m hoping for a reasonable bond, maybe $1,500, maybe $3,000. The family will put that money together, pay the bond and she will be released. That will allow her to come to New York and petition the family court to release her children.”
If no one is able to petition for the children in family court, Orochena says, Yeni’s parental rights could be severed and the children could be placed in foster care. In an interview before the executive order was signed, Orochena confirmed that there was “not” a legal guarantee that the family will ever be reunited.
“If the judge on July 3 sets a high bond that my client’s family cannot pay, she will have to fight her case in custody,” he explains. “Asylum is very, very difficult especially when my client is in custody and is unable to assist me to get the evidence we need to petition for asylum. If she’s in custody, it’s very likely she’ll lose her application for asylum, it’s likely she will be deported and it’s very likely she won’t be here in a New York court where a judge will determine where these children will go.”
He adds, “If that happens, these children could be moved and I could never be notified.”