Migrant father tells separated families, ‘Don’t give up’

Eris Hidalgo Ramirez couldn’t sleep for three nights after his son was taken from him. The 26-year-old Honduras native had never been apart from his 5-year-old before the end of May, when the two illegally crossed the border in Texas to seek asylum. They were separated soon after immigration authorities took them into custody.

“I never gave up hope that I would see Jostin again,” Ramirez said. “While I was in detention I felt so helpless.”

That helplessness appeared to have faded Friday afternoon, when the two were were reunited in the Bronx after eight weeks apart. Ramirez, staying with a friend in upstate New York, was driven down to the school where a local organization was caring for Jostin.

“I feel so happy to have him with me again because I feel like I was missing my heart as long as I was without him,” he said as he held his son, moments after being reunited.

Ramirez is one of the lucky parents who has been reunited with his child well before the court-imposed July 26 deadline requiring children 5 and older be returned to their parents. The government said in a court filing Friday that there are about 2,551 children 5 and older who are eligible for these reunions.

More news of family reunifications has trickled out from around the United States since Friday. Yolany Padilla, an asylum seeker from Honduras, was reunited with her 6-year-old son in Seattle on Saturday afternoon. And, as Ramirez’s reunion in the Bronx was underway Friday, Guatemalan mother Yeni Gonzalez Garcia was reunited with her three children in Manhattan.

But these reunions have come only after often long, painful separations. Ramirez told CNN that his only interactions with Jostin were over the phone, and that he didn’t hear from his son until 11 days after their separation. Ramirez was in detention with a handful of other fathers who often swapped stories about their children.

“There were all sorts of rumors spreading among the parents in detention that we would never see our children again,” Ramirez told CNN.

Behind the scenes, the reunions have required immense coordination. Ramirez’s Texas-based attorney, Elizabeth Lippincott, said the reunion was possible only with the help of multiple non-profit organizations and people who came to Ramirez’s aid.

Lippincott described, as an example, the cold call she made to a woman who ended up driving down to New York with Ramirez to pick up Jostin in a borrowed car with no notice. When they realized Jostin would need a booster seat to ride safely back upstate with his father, volunteers from the nonprofit group Immigrant Families Together brought a seat to the reunion site in the Bronx.

“(The reunification process) is by no means automatic or smooth,” Lippincott told CNN.

While the newly mandated reunion dates have increased pressure on the federal government, Lippincott said they were “tools” for lawyers and others to use to help with the reunions.

“Someone’s got to pick them up and use them,” she said.

Ramirez, like many of the other parents who are reunited with their children, still faces a September court date to hear his asylum case. He said his fight is far from over, though he had insight to share with other parents who still have not reunited with their children.

“I would encourage all separated parents to remain strong,” he told CNN. “Sooner or later you are bound to see your children again. Don’t give up.”

Visibly happy to be back with his father, Jostin is too young to understand the asylum fight that’s ahead.

“I don’t want them to take my dad away again,” the little boy said as he clung to his father.