Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
EL PASO – Two Central American fathers reunited with their young children shared the joy of being back together and spoke about the heartache of being separated during a news conference Wednesday.
“I threatened to kill myself,” said Roger Ardino, a father from Honduras, who spent months in a detention center in south Texas after he was separated from his 4-year-old son at the border in February. He said he threatened suicide to pressure U.S. authorities to reunite him with his young child.
The 24-year-old father held Roger Jr. in his lap during a news conference at a shelter run by Annunciation House.
“We can do it the easy way or the hard way, but either way we’re taking your child,” he said immigration authorities told him.
Ardino said agents had to hold him back when they whisked the boy away. He said he was so furious when the immigration authorities returned to the room, he punched them.
The father and son had arrived at an international bridge in Texas to ask for asylum. U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials have advised families that have an asylum claim to go to legal ports of entry.
The other father from Guatemala, Pablo Ortiz, said he was detained in Arizona and separated from his 3-year-old son after they crossed the border.
Both fathers held their sons tightly as they shared painful experiences while the little boys played with musical toys and Play-Doh.
“Thank God, I’m with my son now,” Ortiz said in broken Spanish.
During the three months he was detained in Arizona, Ortiz said he was allowed to speak to his son on the phone only three times and couldn’t carry on a conversation.
“He’s so little he really can’t talk much,” he said.
The father and son needed few words Tuesday night when they were reunited.
“He said, ‘Hola, Papi,’ and we hugged each other,” Ortiz said.
The two men, who were in detention centers in other parts of the country, were relocated to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in New Mexico’s Otero County a few hours before their release so they could be close to their children.
Their kids were in shelters in El Paso under the care of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The government reunited less than half of the 100 children in custody with their parents by the court-ordered deadline Tuesday.
A third father did not appear at the news conference because he departed from Annunciation House early Wednesday morning with his little girl. The other fathers were scheduled to leave Wednesday afternoon.
All are planning to stay with relatives in other cities and are required to check in with ICE as their cases move through immigration court.
Annunciation House is helping 48 mothers and fathers separated from their children at the border, according to Taylor Levy, legal coordinator for the organization.
Seven are parents of “tender age” children. So far, there have been four reunions and more are expected in the next few days.
“It was beautiful,” Ardino said. “It was marvelous being reunited with our children.”
But he also talked about the “psychological trauma” of the separation.
“It was almost the end of me,” he said.