Still in the blue uniform she got upon her release from the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Yolany Padilla looked shellshocked.
She was happy to be free, the 24-year-old Honduran said in Spanish. But she was thinking mainly of her 6-year-old son, taken from her by immigration officials after she crossed the border illegally around May 18. She hasn’t seen him since.
“What I want to do is go running toward where he is,” she said.
She can’t yet. First, she will have to meet an array of government requirements that could delay their reunification for a week or longer.
Her lawyers were trying to figure it out amid widespread confusion, even on the part of government officials, about how to bring together parents and children separated under the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy.
Padilla is believed to be the first such parent detained in Washington to be released.
At a Friday hearing in the detention center, immigration Judge John Odell set bond at $8,000. Padilla recently passed a “credible fear” interview, the first step in an asylum application.
Padilla, unlike some parents in similar circumstances, has another advantage: She knows where her child is — in New York City. He spends days at a child-welfare facility called Cayuga Centers, and evenings and weekends at a foster home, according to Padilla’s attorney, Leta Sanchez.
Friday afternoon, as Sanchez waited for her client to be released from the detention center, she was making calls to Cayuga Centers staffers to find out what steps she needed to take.
There were many, she found out, to follow rules set by the Health and Human Services Department’s Office of Refugee Resettlement, which oversees the care of all children taken from their parents.
Sanchez said she was told Padilla has to show she can provide a safe place for her son. For starters, she needs proof of housing and income.
Housing she has, courtesy of a local volunteer who has offered to put her up. That person can also submit a letter offering to support Padilla, so she can satisfy the income requirement.
The volunteer is one of a number of local individuals and organizations that are offering support, including the money that allowed Padilla to pay the bond.
Padilla also must be fingerprinted so the government can run a background check. Immigration officials took her fingerprints after she was detained, but Sanchez said she was told Padilla has to get them taken again, and that process normally takes seven to 10 days.
“I’m looking for a way to expedite that,” Sanchez said. “Every day that goes by is damaging this young child and his mother.”
Another requirement is the child’s birth certificate, which was taken by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and not returned, according to Sanchez.
ICE spokeswoman Lori Haley said she couldn’t comment on that, and referred all inquiries to Health and Human Services. That department said it will not comment on specific cases.
“Reunification is always the ultimate goal of those entrusted with the care of unaccompanied alien children, and we are working toward that for those unaccompanied alien children currently in our custody,” said an emailed statement. The department did not answer questions about how that would happen.
Connected by phone
In a federal court Friday, the Trump administration said it needed more time to reunite parents and children. The court late last month gave the administration a 30-day deadline for most reunifications.
In part, the administration told a judge, it needed the extra time to conduct DNA tests to prove the parentage of children in its care.
Sanchez said she has not been told that DNA tests will be necessary.
Padilla last saw her son when they were held together in a cold cell known by Spanish-speaking immigrants as a “hielera,” or freezer. Immigration officials brought them there after their arrest.
That same day, officials took away the boy without explanation, according to a class-action lawsuit against the government filed by the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. Padilla is one of three named plaintiffs.
She saw her son just once more about a day later, when immigration officials took a photo of them together, according to the lawsuit.
About two weeks later, she was transferred, along with about 200 others in ICE custody, to the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac, and later to the Tacoma detention center.
At some point, she was given a slip of paper with her son’s whereabouts and was able to reach him by phone.
“He cried almost the whole call,” Padilla recalled.
She talked to him three more times, and he seemed a bit happier, she said, because “I told him I was going to come for him.”
The government may instead bring the boy to her. Sanchez said she was told so by a Cayuga Centers staffer.
But she was getting new information all the time.
Padilla, talking in The Seattle Times offices hours after her release, was slowly taking everything in. She was looking a little more relaxed after changing into jeans, a T-shirt and a jacket that her lawyer had brought for her. But she obviously needed to sleep.
She had gotten barely any, she said, in the roughly seven weeks that she had been detained.
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