Beata Mariana de Jesus Mejia-Mejia, 38, who sued the U.S. the government for separating her and her 7-year-old son after they crossed the border, has advice for other families separated. (Thalia Juarez / Baltimore Sun Media Group)
The boy smiled shyly, holding his mom’s hand. He looked as if he were going to cry.
After a little more than a month apart, Darwin Mejia-Mejia, 7, had been reunited with his mother early Friday morning at BWI Marshall Airport.
Originally from Guatemala, Beata Mariana de Jesus Mejia-Mejia, 38, sued the U.S. government for separating them after they crossed the border into the United States. The family had arrived in the U.S. in May, fleeing violence in their home country and seeking asylum.
Instead, Mejia-Mejia was taken into government custody and her son was taken to a child detention center managed by Southwest Key Programs, according to her lawyer from a group called Nexus Derechos Humanos, which specializes in civil and human rights law.
He became one of the more than 2,300 children separated from their parents under the “zero tolerance” policy employed by the administration of President Donald Trump.
Nexus Derechos Humanos, which has offices in Virginia, posted her bail last Friday and filed her lawsuit Tuesday in Washington. Plans to reunite mother and son a day earlier had fallen through, said her lawyer, Mario Williams.
At the airport gate, seeing his mom again, Darwin had been without words, his mom told a crowd of reporters at Southwest’s baggage claim at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport before 3 a.m. Friday.
She’d said she missed him. Across her chest she had draped a fuzzy blue and white blanket that belonged to him; Mike Donovan, the CEO of Nexus, said she hadn’t taken it off since they’d separated.
Asked whether she had a message for other mothers separated from their children, Mejia-Mejia said in Spanish: “For them to fight for them … to keep fighting. We have to keep fighting to get our children back.”
A Nexus spokesman said Mejia-Mejia and her son likely will return this week to live in Austin, Texas.
Williams said Mejia-Mejia’s case is likely the first of many similar cases and possibly a class-action lawsuit that Nexus will pursue.
In the coming days, the organization’s lawyers will determine what happened to Darwin while he was in custody. For example, whether he was drugged, as news reports have said some children were, the spokesman said.
In a statement, Donovan called the government’s actions in separating the family “a shocking affront to our nation’s values,” saying that the policy punished asylum-seekers by targeting children.
Mejia-Mejia and her son surrendered to Border Patrol agents on May 19 after crossing from Mexico near San Luis, Ariz. Her lawsuit alleged that the government violated constitutional guarantees of due process and deprived her of her child's "care and custody" when she was separated from him.
The lawsuit stated that Mejia-Mejia fled Guatemala seeking asylum in the United States after facing violence and death threats from her husband toward her and her son.
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The pledge by government lawyers to return the boy to his mother — during a hearing challenging the Trump administration's immigrant family separation process — came less than 24 hours after President Donald Trump issued an executive order Wednesday discontinuing the policy, leaving confusion and legal questions in its wake.
Immigrant rights groups and 11 states, including Maryland, announced their intentions Thursday to also challenge what they called the administration's unconstitutional and discriminatory policy, after learning that detention centers across the country were holding children.
Trump's executive order said the government would maintain "zero tolerance" toward those who break the law.
On Friday, officials with Department of Homeland Security said about 500 of the more than 2,300 children had been reunited with their families. But it remains unclear whether or how the government plans to reunite the remaining children with their parents.
Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh said he was bring a lawsuit against the Trump administration challenging an order designed to end the separation of immigrant families but which Frosh says will create new problems.