NEW YORK (AP) - A judge ordered on Monday the immediate release of a 2-year old Honduran boy that was separated from his father at the border more than five months ago, calling the separation of the two “the most cruel of all cruelties.”
The boy, only identified as D.J.C.V. at a hearing in federal court in Manhattan, is expected to be released from the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement and be given to his father.
“I already feel the pain going away,” said the father after the hearing. “I feel very grateful with the judge who made the decision to give me my child and also with the people who are helping me, the lawyers, and mostly God.”
The father is only identified as Mr. C in court documents because of the threats he has received from gang members in Honduras, said his lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights.
The child has been living with a New York foster family, Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Waterman said at the hearing. The father, who arrived with the toddler at the US-Mexico border on April 30th, spent five months in detention centers in Texas, New Jersey and New York and was released on bond last week.
Immigrant children were separated from their parents at the border this summer under President Donald Trump’s zero-tolerance crackdown. The practice ended in June, but hundreds of children remain in detention, shelters or foster care, and U.S. officials say more than 200 are not eligible for reunification or release.
The father and son fled Honduras to escape death threats from gangs like MS-13 who “kidnapped and held Mr. C at gun point, threatening his life and the life of his baby,” said the petition filed by his lawyers on Oct. 4. Other Honduran gangs killed multiple members of Mr. C’s extended family, the document says.
Court papers also say the Honduran man is not the child’s biological father, but “he is D.J.C.V ‘s legal father and the only father the child has ever known.” The mother, who is in Honduras, signed a document allowing Mr. C to leave the country with her son, his attorneys said.
Judge Alvin Hellerstein asked questions about the wellbeing of the child during the hearing and criticized the government for taking the toddler away from his father.
“I don’t understand the rationale nor the humanity of this,” he said.
Waterman said the Honduran father had been deported from the U.S. twice in the past and was accused of domestic violence eight years ago during an incident he believed happened in the U.S.
Waterman also said the family reunification process implies several steps, like doing a home visit, and that all requirements are designed to guarantee the safety and wellbeing of the child.
The judge said the domestic violence incident was considered a misdemeanor and that it was not sufficient to deny the petition.
The father was able to see the toddler once last week after being released.
“I felt so happy, I cried with him. That happiness broke my heart even more,” he said.
The father said he plans to live with his son in his sister’s home in Texas.
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