Four asylum-seeking fathers have been separated from their children at the U.S.-Mexico border. Sign the petition, call and write to CBP and ICE to demand their release and family reunification!

José Demar Fuentes, 30, and his son Mateo. Photo Credit: Pueblo sin Fronteras

From Amnesty International:

US border agency officials forcibly separated four Central American asylum-seeking fathers from their children after their arrival to the US, in violation of US standards on family unity during immigration detention. The parents are subsequently suffering from emotional distress, and the whereabouts of two of the children are still unknown.

Four Central American fathers, each with their child, crossed into the United States from Mexico to seek asylum from death threats and irreparable harm, between 10 and 13 November. **Eric Edgardo M. C. **and his son **Roger **(3), are from Honduras, and three families are from El Salvador: **Jose D. F. **and his son **Mateo **(1); **Carlos B. A. **and his son **Dominic **(12); and **Walter R. A. **and his daughter **Melissa **(5). Three of the families presented themselves at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, while border officials detained the fourth after they crossed illegally into the US.

After several days in detention by the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency of the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), CBP transferred the fathers to the San Diego Field Office of DHS’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE authorities visited the group four times on 16 November, using intimidation tactics to coerce the fathers to give up their children to shelters. They denied the fathers’ requests to use a phone, told them that their asylum claims would be compromised, and demanded the children be given up to prevent their being taken by force. Despite the fathers’ refusal to be separated from their children, under duress, three of the fathers surrendered their children. The fourth refused and his child was violently removed. Authorities then handcuffed all four fathers and transferred them to ICE’s Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego, California, where they remain. None of the fathers said they gave formal consent to be separated from their children, and ICE authorities declined to inform them where their children were taken, offering only a hotline for the US Office of Refugee Resettlement to seek information about their whereabouts. The wellbeing of the fathers and their families is being negatively impacted by the severe stress of not knowing where their children are or what their status is.

The CPB and ICE violated national immigration detention standards by failing to prioritize and facilitate family unity in these cases. The separation of families seeking asylum is cruel and creates an unnecessary deterrence for often-traumatized asylum seekers arriving to the US after fleeing violence or persecution in their countries of origin.

Sign this petition to #GiveMateoBack and reunite José and son:

José Demar Fuentes with his son riding “la Bestia.” Photo Credit: Verónica Gabriela on Facebook

Read Statements from the Four Fathers:

José Demar Fuentes:

On Sunday, November 12th, 2017, I presented myself at the U.S. border at the San Ysidro Port of Entry along with my 1-year old son Dylan Mateo Fuentes Acevedo (‘Mateo’) in order to apply for asylum. We left our home in El Salvador and had travelled through Mexico alongside hundreds of other migrants in a caravan called the Viacrucis Guadalupano Migrantes Solidarios. On that Sunday, Mateo and I presented ourselves at the border along with 35 other migrants from the caravan.

Upon entering the facility at the border, everything was good at first. However, I was a bit shocked when the officials there later lined us all up in a big hallway, began speaking English and telling us to place our bags in a certain place, and then getting upset at and yelling at certain younger boys who didn’t seem to understand. Later that same day (Sunday), they took us to a room for us to register, take fingerprints, pictures, etc. It took awhile for me to finally pass, and after I passed I think it was already the middle of the night. Then, they gave Mateo a blanket and put us in a room by ourselves. It was quite sad being in there alone, and while holding Mateo in my arms that night I began to cry. I had never been in such a situation, and while I did think about throwing in the towel and going back to find my wife Olivia and other son Andree, the will to keep moving forward eventually won.

After just two hours in that room the officials took us out and transferred us to another room, which was where I met Walter and his 5-year old daughter and also saw Jose Abel and his 4-yar old daughter Samantha, who were also members of the caravan. Later, a man named Carlos entered with his 12-year old son. At this point, I was much happier and found motivation in having company and seeing Mateo playing with the other kids. I changed Mateo and later slept well that night.

On Monday morning (the 13th) we woke up and had breakfast, and then later the officials took me to do a small interview. However, when I came back to the room, none of the others were there. At that point depression hit me again; there was just so much to think about that it gave me a headache. To pass the time I cradled Mateo and played with him, looking at the names etched on the wall to the pass the time. We slept alone that night.

On Tuesday morning (the 14th) it was the same routine — breakfast and then lunch. At about 3 or 4PM a border patrol (CBP) official came to the room with our bags to do a revision of them. He told me we would be leaving at 6PM that night, which excited me. Unfortunately, though, we didn’t leave until about 7:30 or 8PM. Later, after about a 30-minute drive, we arrived at a hotel. At this point I was with both Carlos and Walter, and then got put in a room with a man named Eric and his young son. In the hotel there were a bunch of guards there that wanted to boss us around, almost as if they forgot that our children were with us. I didn’t understand a lot of what they said, and while I was always respectful with them they were being quite forceful. In the end, we passed the night and rested well.

On Wednesday morning (the 15th), the guards came very early — about 5:30 or 6AM — to give us breakfast. The door to our room always remained open, so they just walked right in. Mateo is not used to eating this early, so he didn’t eat. However, the guards came back quickly and started yelling at us, saying to either eat the food or throw it out. I tried to have Mateo eat as much as he could, and then quickly we had to change and leave the hotel.

After leaving, they took us to a big building somewhere in San Diego where they do interviews. Thinking we would leave from there, we brought all of our stuff. They put myself and the other fathers with children in a cold room, and from there we could see people leaving — mainly mothers and children (including some from the caravan). However, they didn’t call any of us for an interview the whole day — not myself, Walter, Carlos, Eric, nor another man from Belarus who I met there with his 5-year old son. This man actually told me that he had 4 days of going back and forth between the hotel and that building. That made us all afraid to think of having so many days without resolving his situation.

Later, at about 6PM, they took us all back to the hotel, where before entering they passed a list and reviewed the rules. That night they added Carlos to the room with Eric and I, while Walter was with the Belarusian man. After giving us food to cook in the microwave in our room, we all threw out the trash in the bin. However, since the bin was small, we had to stack the trash on top of it. A female official later came in telling us to clean up the trash and calling us ill-bred and telling us about how it’s our responsibility to be clean in a very demanding manner. In the end, she brought us a bigger bag to put all the trash in, and later we relaxed and went to bed.

On Thursday morning, we again began leaving the hotel at about 8AM, and on the way out I again ran into Jose Abel in the hallway. Then, to my surprise I realized that the Belarusian man was no longer there, and Walter later informed us that they had taken him out of the hotel in the middle of the night. We immediately were happy because we thought he had left detention and that we were also on our way out. However, we still went to the same building from yesterday, just that day we went in a van as opposed to a big bus. Before leaving I had asked for Pampers because Mateo had peed and I needed to change him, but after telling me to wait they then made us board without giving me the chance. In the van the windows were down and the air was off. It got very hot, and while I fanned Mateo with a shirt I had I could see some of the other kids sweating.

Once we got to the building, we saw the Belarusian man and his son. When we asked him what happened, I didn’t understand too much other than that they only brought him there to sleep more and that they still hadn’t even given him an interview yet! Then as the day went on it was the same routine — we saw people passing through outside yet none of us dads advanced at all. After some time, another dad from Guatemala came in with his son who was about 7 or 8. Now, we were seven dads with kids all together.

Then, we had our first encounter with an immigration official that day when a tall, dark-skinned, Spanish-speaking, bald official came in and passed the roll call. Then, speaking just to myself, Eric, Carlos, Walter, and our children, he told us, “Leave your kids behind, and come outside.” We need to tell you something in private before beginning the process.” In the end, only Carlos’ son stayed in there while he spoke to us outside, but he informed us that we needed to separate from our kids. Afterwards, as we began to analyze the situation, we saw that for some reason they were not doing the same thing to the other three families. Because we had been oriented about this possibility while on the caravan, my initial response was to not let Mateo go under any circumstances, up until the last moment. After the official left, I told my companions that I wasn’t going to let this happen to Mateo. I began to explain to my companions that immigration can’t do this to us and that there is a family detention center in Pennsylvania that is specifically for dads with kids. They told me, “Ok, if you don’t want, we won’t either,” and they began to find strength in resisting as well.

Later that day, we had our second encounter with immigration officials when the same official came back along with a Spanish-speaking female official wearing an ICE vest. They had supposedly come to interview us, but the man asked us if had thought about what he said earlier and if we were ready to cooperate. Then, the lady began explaining that she only wants to help us and that we should let go of our kids for what’s good for us, because if we didn’t than it was going to affect us in our whole process. However, I insisted that I wouldn’t let them take Mateo from me. The officials then said that they didn’t want to have to use force, but would have to take action as the authority if we didn’t cooperate. They repeated the same thing — that it would affect our situation going forward — and added that we we should cooperate so our kids don’t have to see violence. But all four of us resisted, and they simply left. When we went back to our room, the other three families had heard everything. Later, they let the Belarusian man out, and we never heard from him. Then, when breakfast finally came that morning, Carlos and I were actually worried that immigration might play dirty and would drug our food, so we decided not to even eat.

Later, we had had our third encounter with officials when the ‘director’ of the institution came — a heavy man with short hair wearing a light blue suit, also Spanish-speaking. He sat us down in a line and told us to cede to their demands because he is the authority. He said that the order came from people above him and that he had to enforce it. At this point I asked if I could make a telephone call, to which his response was that whoever I call was not going to serve for anything seeing as the decision was already made. Then, I asked why they didn’t send us to the center in Pennsylvania, asking him if he knew about it. He told us that it was a complicated logistical matter, and that he’d have to call to see if there’s space, plane tickets, etc., and then he left.

Finally, later on we had our last encounter with immigration officials before our kids were taken from us. The bald official came back and told us that now it was time, and that the bus was ready to take them away. I still insisted that Mateo had to stay with me, and all 4 of us families stayed inside the room away from the door out of fear, insisting the kids remain with us. At that point, the bald official talked to another female official who was there. I had Mateo cradled in my arms, and the lady simply came over and took him out of my hands. The officials did the same to the other three dads. When Walter’s daughter realized what was happening she began to cry and went to hold on to him. He told her not to go with them, but the officials continued to insist and told him that since she wa a girl that he simply couldn’t refuse. In the end, he let her out of his arms after consistent threats. At the time, we were all worried that they might resort to using electric shocks with us. However, despite it all, Eric still clung onto his son. Still, they went up to him and ripped his son away as he tried to cling on. As the lady was walking away with Mateo, all I could think to do was to give her his bottle. All he had on at the time was pants, a shirt, and a light jacket. That was the last time I saw my son.

The only thing I want is to be able to reunite with Mateo, to see my son again. I gladly would go to the family detention center in Pennsylvania, no matter if we are there for 6 months — or even a year — to finish our asylum process. But however long it takes, I cannot be separated from my son. I need to be with him.

Jose Demar Fuentes

Sworn Declaration of Carlos Batres Aguilar

I swear under penalty of perjury of the laws of the United States of America that the following is true and correct to the best of my knowledge.

  1. My name is Carlos Batres Aguilar. I was born on September 8th, 1977 in El Salvador. I am currently detained in San Diego, California at the Otay Mesa Detention Center.

  2. On November 12, 2017 my son Dominic Aaron Batres Landaverde (DOB: 12/15/2004), and I presented ourselves at the Otay Mesa pedestrian port of entry. A CBP officer told us to proceed towards his desk, where we presented our Salvadorian documents and requested Asylum. We were asked to wait aside. We handed over my son’s Salvadorian passport and my Salvadorian national ID. He held these documents for about 30 minutes while we waited to the side. He then approached us with another officer and spoke to us in English, so it was difficult for us to understand. But he kept saying “San Ysidro.” He then grabbed me and by son by the shoulder an took us back to Mexico through a rotating door. Then, in Spanish, he said that we could take a taxi to San Ysidro to seek asylum. We did not have any money so we walked together through Tijuana for two hours, asking locals for directions to San Ysidro.

  3. We presented ourselves at San Ysidro east pedestrian entrance. We were asked to go in; both my child and I were handcuffed and escorted to a room in the back. We waited in that room for about three hours. While we were waiting, an officer came by and removed the handcuffs. We were processed, asked all sorts of questions, then we were both handcuffed again and transported in a van to another office about five minutes away. I believe we were taken to Pedwest. We waited in a waiting room for about an hour and a half. They continued to ask us questions about why we were there, where we were from. Then, we were thrown into a holding cell with three other men and each of the men had one child.

  4. For the next few days, we were held in the cell, then transferred to a hotel during the nights and then transported back and forth during the day to another building that was 30–40 minutes away.

  5. On November 16, 2017, we were woken up at the hotel and transported to the other building. My child and I were held in a cell with other men, each of the men had a child, one of the children was just one years old. A female officer with a green jacket came and said that we would have to turn in our children or our cases would suffer. She directed her comment to just four of us. We all said that we would not be separated from our children. Later, another officer came and asked us what we thought. We continued to say that we would not turn our children over. They said that we would have to give up our kids or they would use force. They said that we needed to give up our kids, for better or for worse.

  6. Later another officer came by and he introduced himself as the boss of the entire operation. He continued to tell us that we would be separated from our children, by this point only four of us remained in the cell.

  7. I started to resign and tell my son that all would be ok. He told me that he did not want to be separated from me. All the children started getting scared and were crying. They took me out of the cell to identify my belongings and the belongings of my child. I refused to separate them. While I was outside the cell, I saw them take the children along with my son. He yelled to me “dad what is happening”. I said “I don’t know”.

  8. I never signed over any custody of my child to anyone. We asked for a call several times but it was always denied. After being separated from my child, I was given a phone number to connect with my child and to be able to find out where he was. I was also told that I could talk to him. They informed me that my son would be connected with the contact that we had provided when we got processed.

Eric Edgardo Matute Castro

In the early morning hours of Monday, November 13th, 2017, I crossed the border in Tijuana, Mexico into the United States along with my 3-year old son, Roger Yadiel Matute Ramirez. We were detained by immigration and taken to be put in the room called the ‘hielera’ (icebox) in what I believe was the Otay Mesa port of entry. Immigration officials first took our information and then sent us to a room to register with a man named Officer Nathan who spoke very little Spanish and was dressed in plain clothes. After waiting for some time, Roger had an urge to use the bathroom. I asked Officer Nathan for permission, and upon seeing Roger’s clear facial expression and stress, began speaking to me in English. The only thing I understood was, ‘shut up motherfucker,’ and I also heard him say ‘Mini-me’ to another officer and laugh, although I’m not sure what that meant. In the end, he didn’t let him use the bathroom but just rather brought him a cookie, while Roger meanwhile had to pee his pants. I also had a cold, and they put a mask on me that was so tight that I couldn’t breathe. When I asked to take it off, the officials refused. At one point, when I asked to make a call, the officials told me it wouldn’t serve for anything.

After registering, I was put in a room with another Honduran father and his son (who was about 9 or 10-years old). Shortly afterwards, Roger and I were again put in the icebox room. At about 8PM on that same Monday, we were taken out of the room and sent to a series of different places, an act that I believe was designed to not let us sleep. First, we were brought in front of an office where Roger went back to sleep. Next, we were brought back to Officer Nathan’s office. Later, we were brought to another small and cold room. And finally, they moved us to one final room that night.

When Tuesday morning (the 14th) came, at about 10AM we left that facility and were taken to a nearby building that had a big garage attached to it. This would end up being the place where they would take our kids away from us. At first, everything was fine there, although they did take my medicine for my cold away from me and wouldn’t let me take it. I also ran into the same Honduran guy from earlier at that building. In any case, Roger and I basically just waited around there until they took us to a hotel at about 6PM. Upon arrival at the hotel, I again saw the Honduran guy, and also saw and met Jose and his 1-year old son Mateo along with a Belarusian man and his 5-year old son. The Belarusian and the Honduran were put in one room, and I was put in another with Jose. We had dinner and went to bed.

On Wednesday morning (the 15th), Jose and I were expecting we would be sent back to the building with the big garage for an interview and then be released. We thought this because a friend I met there told me that he had seen mothers and fathers only spend one night at the hotel and then be released. So, we were taken to that building with that thought in our minds, but in the end, they we were put in a room and the officials didn’t even open the door to it. In that room it was just dads with kids, and it was there that I met Walter and his 5-year old daughter. We then later returned to a hotel, but this time in a small bus instead of a big one. Upon returning, we realized that they had released mostly everyone besides those on the small bus with us, which were Jose, Walter, myself, Carlos (another dad who was with his 12-year old son).

On Thursday morning (the 16th), we were again taken back to the building with the big garage, where we were to have several encounters with immigration officials. In the first one, a bald, Spanish-speaking official wearing a green suit came to tell us that we had to turn our kids into them because they had to go to a shelter. He then asked if we agreed, and Walter asked why that was so, to which his response was just that they had to go to another place. Then, the official simply left. Afterwards, the group of us began discussing our options, and Walter was considering turning his daughter in. However, Jose was aware that immigration had done this to other parents, explained to us what was happening, and we decided that going forward we would resist as a group.

Later, we had our second encounter with the officials when the bald official returned alongside a female official who also spoke Spanish. She told us to bring our belongings and then to give our kids their things. She said directly to me, “Give me your kid!” I responded, “No, I‘m not going to do that.” At that point Jose asked to make a phone call, to which the lady responded, “No one can make a call. Besides, it won’t help anyway.” She then began to tell us that we better turn our kids over for our own good seeing as they were going to take them from us anyway. We were very intimidated, but still didn’t give in. Jose then continued to ask for a call, but to no avail. They continued to say that there were no calls allowed at the time, but rather they would have to wait until later. Ultimately, the four of us — Jose, Carlos, Walter, and myself — still refused to give our kids over, and both officials left.

Afterwards, our third encounter with the officials happened when a heavier official who also spoke Spanish came in and told us he was the one in charge there. He specifically looked for me, as the female official had informed him that I was the one that spoke up most and was inducing the resistance. When I again insisted that I would only let Roger go if I went with him, the heavy official asked me, “Do you want me to take him by force?” I told him that I didn’t, but explained that it was my right to remain with my child and then asked him if he would let his son go if he were in my place. He said that he wouldn’t, but that it was the best thing for me to do. I turned to my companions and asked why they weren’t also speaking up, but they remained silent. In any case, I affirmed that I wouldn’t turn my son over. The heavy officer then said, “Well, if you want violence, then you’ll have it. I’m the authority, and here things go by what I say.” I think he was trying to intimidate us psychologically to get us to agree, but no one gave in. “Ok, now you’ll have what you want,” he concluded. Jose again began to ask for a phone call but was again turned down. I also asked for a call, and was also turned down. At that point, I began to plead with the official, telling him that he could do whatever he wanted to me as long as he didn’t take my son away. I went on, telling me that I’d have to kill myself if he took my son away (to which Walter tried to calm me down). The official responded, saying “I don’t care about that. I care about the law, and that comes from above.” Throughout it all, the officials never gave any real explanation for why they had to take our kids away. They just said that they would be going to a better place, to which of course we said that the best place for them is to be with their fathers.

Finally, during the fourth encounter with officials, several of them came and ultimately took our kids away from us. The officials that entered explained that they would have to use force to take them away seeing as we hadn’t given in. As an official approached me to take Roger from me, I still didn’t give in. As Roger begged to not be taken away I grasped him firmly in my arms. I told the official that I would never give him, but that she would have to take him from me. Then, she just came up to me and with both hands forcefully yanked Roger out of my arms. There was no signature or anything, they just take our four kids. I have not seen Roger since. The only information they left us with in terms of communicating was a hotline number for a shelter that would be responsible for the kids. In terms of legal representation for our cases, we did not inquire into it nor was anything mentioned about it.

Right now, I feel like I have no will to live or to do anything. If I have to spend years in jail, I just ask that it be spent with my son. The only thing I ask for right now is that Roger be by my side. I raised him as a single dad, and I know that I am the only one that can continue to do so and watch over him.

Eric Edgardo Matute Castro

Walter Ramirez Aviles

11/10/17 “Friday” — San Ysidro PedWest @~1pm. My daughter and I turned ourselves in. Death threats to all family. I told them that I was El Salvador & was seeking asylum. They made me wait outside the gate ~2 hours. Then I showed my ES passport for me and Melissa. Then I was asked to wait and sat on the floor with my daughter 1.5 hrs. Then I went to a desk talked to an officer — I showed ES passport which states I’m the father. (wife has BC copies)

It was hard to communicate because of language issues. Then they took all my belongings including a power drill because it was how I was paid at the last job that I did. They gave me a code for my belongings.

Then they took me inside along with another group and they processed all of us. All of this took about 1.5 hours. Then me and Melissa were in a cell that was 2 meters by 2 meters. There was a water fountain and cups, toilet paper, a toilet, and a handwash station.

I entered here on Friday and was there until Tuesday. About 5 days. Food was not great, but very cold. My daughter would tell me to hug her because she was cold. We had 2 blankets and a thin mattress/cot on the floor.

Around 9pm on Tuesday an officer told me that they were transporting us to a shelter. Around 50 of us were transported in a bus and a van. My daughter and I were in the front of the bus. They took us to a hotel, they put me in a room with Carlos from El Salador. It was four of us in the room. Me, Melissa, Carlos and his son.

We slept, we were awoken at 6am on Wednesday. Then they took us to “oficina de San Diego” — “downtown.” José and his son, Carlos and his son, Melissa and I were put in a dirty jail cell. About 1.5 hours later our children were playing and making lots of noise and an officer took me and my daughter to another jail cell. We were alone. Other people were interviewed that day but we were in the cell all day. At 7pm we were returned to the hotel. Then me and a Russian man were rooming together. He had a 5-year old boy.

On Thursday around 4AM the Russian man and his 5-year old boy were taken away. I’m not sure what happened to them. Around 7:30am we were taken again to the San Diego office. This time we went back to the same cell. The Russian man was there sleeping with his son. There was no blanket, just a mattress. I saw another man named Jose from Guatemala with a 4-year-old daughter named Samantha.

Then Melissa and I joined Jose Demar and his one-year-old son, a Honduran man with a three-year-old son, and a man named Carlos with a twelve-year-old son. There were also some others. In total there were six adults and six children.

We were not fed until late. Then an officer spoke to us in Spanish. He had a green uniform. He said “vayan a separar sus pertenencias suyas y de sus hijos porque dentro de un momento van a venir por ellos.” (Start separating your belongings from your children’s because in a moment they’re going to come for them.) They didn’t want to but I went to separate the belongings.

About 40 minutes later “Rodriguez,” a female ICE officer, with a gold necklace and civilian clothes, came. She said “Yo vengo a explicarles que sus hijos van a un albergue, porque condiciones no son para ellos. Se les va a dar un número para preguntar por ellos, y pueden llamar para hablar con ellos.” (I am here to explain to you that your children are going to a shelter, because the conditions are not for them. You will be given a number to ask about them, and you can call it to talk to them.)

Jose and the Honduran (of the group) said that they weren’t going to separate from their children. Then we all agreed that we couldn’t be separated.

Rodriguez said “mejor por las buenas que por las malas.” (we can do this the easy way or the hard way.) Another officer dressed in green also said the same thing. Rodriguez left, and five minutes later food came. We were afraid the food might have sleeping pills, so we didn’t eat it. After eating we all cleaned up the trash.

They took Jose (the Guatemalan) and Samantha and the Russian with the boy. They left the three of us with our children. (Carlos, Jose, Walter & children)

Then a “jefe” (boss) of the whole installation (ICE) showed up with a big man. “Your children will be taken to a shelter. I don’t agree but we have to. You have to do it whether you want to or not. You will let go of your children.”

All of the children started to grab us and cry. “I don’t want to be separated, I’m going to hug you so hard that no one will be able to separate us,” my daughter said. I consoled her because I didn’t want her to get traumatized. “You will be okay.” “Who will protect me if I’m afraid that someone will kill me?” I told the officer “please tell her that no one will kill her.” She was afraid of the officers’ guns. I let her go voluntarily so that she wouldn’t get hurt. I was the first to let go.

She left, I was left calm. I gave her one last hug. “Dad do you promise me that you will take me to where they make princeses?”

In the case of the Honduran, they yanked the child from him. Jose was crying along with his one-year-old son. A female officer came inside the cell and took him.

Once they took the kids our treatment was different. They handcuffed us.

3 in green were in charge of the cell. A woman and other man.

A boss said “gran pedo” you are going to negatively affect things down the road.

Never signed custody over.

We were given an ORR number to contact child anytime.

Jose asked for a call. He was denied a call, before they took the kids.

Melissa wets her bed and has to wear diapers. I am worried about her mental health. I tried calling but I have no funds.

Read a statement by advocate Leo Olsen written after he visited the four fathers in the Otay Mesa Detention Center:

“Never will I forget my the first moments of my first meeting with the ‘separated fathers’ at Otay Mesa. When Jose Demar Fuentes and his infant son Mateo had turned themselves in at the U.S. border to apply for asylum alongside 35 others, it was the perfect climax of everything our migrant caravan — the Viacrucis Guadalupano Migrantes Solidarios — had fought for. Five days later, we were looking at the most outrageous and maniacal examples committed on the part of the U.S. government as to why that fight was necessary. I sat there listening to three distressed, grown men — and tough ones at that, ones that had cared for their children along an incredibly dangerous and challenging journey — sobbing over how it could be possible that they had finally made it to their hopeful place of refuge and then their kids were literally ripped out of their arms. Quickly, what was supposed to be an emergency visit to get the fathers to sign privacy release forms turned into a catharsis of sorts. I didn’t have a lot of words, but the majority of that first meeting was spent hashing out their pain and reiterating how we all agreed that a great injustice had been done to them and that something had to be done about it. As I informed the fathers that they already had a substantial team behind them that had organized within just 24 hours — including a U.S. Senator, national journalists, and an internationally-renowned human rights organization — the three fathers began to feel more empowered. When I returned the following day, this time with my colleague Luis and also being able to visit the fourth father, Walter, the attitude had changed. Yes, the men still carried great pain, but they were ready to keep moving forward and keep fighting. They wrote notes and asked that we pass certain messages to their loved ones, and we further discussed the great legal violations committed by U.S. immigration officials over the course of that fateful day. When Luis and I individually took the stories of each of the four fathers, they passionately poured out every detail of what happened to them over the last week. Each had a slightly different perspective, but the story was the same — despite their continuous and unified resistance to persuasion and intimidation, U.S. immigration officials indiscriminately opted to take their infant, toddler, and teenage children from these four fathers. Their unity continues, as Jose, Carlos, Eric, and Walter all share one single and common goal, they must be reunited with their children and will not accept any other result.”

Additional Information from Amnesty International:

CBP has reported that thousands of families from El Salvador and Honduras have presented themselves to CBP authorities at San Diego border crossings in US Fiscal Year 2017. Under US law, children in immigration detention can be released on parole into the United States with an accompanying relative who is in detention. Even if kept in detention, the CBP is required under its internal policy to “maintain family unity to the greatest extent operationally feasible, absent a legal requirement or an articulable safety or security concern that requires separation.” Moreover, according to CBP policy: “In the case of a family unit, CBP makes every effort to process and maintain family units together.” ICE detention policy also allows for children to be held in immigration detention with their adult family members and legal guardians, provided there are no safety or security concerns. Nonetheless, Amnesty International has reviewed frequent reports of CBP and ICE separating parents from their children in immigration detention, including as they seek to claim asylum together.

Amnesty International was made aware of the situations of these four families by the organizations Pueblo Sin Fronteras and Al Otro Lado, which facilitated a “caravan” of approximately 50 asylum seekers who presented themselves at the US-Mexico border on 12 November 2017. The organization briefed the asylum seekers in advance on US law and asylum procedures. Jose D. F. was one of those who participated in the caravan and presented himself and his son Mateo to US border officials at the San Ysidro crossing between Tijuana and San Diego on 12 November.

ICE informed Amnesty International that officials from their Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) Family Unit claimed that both they and CBP were unable to confirm a family relationship between Jose and his son Mateo, supposedly because Jose was unable to provide identifying documents for the child, and the child was too young to speak.

However, organizers of the caravan had already provided Amnesty International and others with copies of both Jose’s passport and Mateo’s birth certificate indicating their family relationship, which were in Jose’s possession during his encounters with CBP and ICE authorities.

According to Jose, he presented both documents to CBP at the border crossing, and was never asked for the documents while in ICE detention. ICE further informed Amnesty International that “Out of concern for the child’s safety and security, ERO transferred the child to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) for placement. Mr. Fuentes was taken into ICE custody at the Otay Mesa Detention Center pending verification of the family relationship.”

Amnesty International calls on authorities to reunite Jose and Mateo, and to release them from detention on parole as they await a hearing on their asylum claim. According to organizers of the caravan, authorities already released on parole all other families that participated in the organized caravan, the Viacrusis Guadalupano, including several who were also from El Salvador and Honduras. Amnesty International awaits further information from ICE on the cases of the other three fathers and their children, who were not participants in the caravan.

Take Action Now!

Call Customs and Border Patrol (CBP):

Español abajo

  • Dial (619) 652–9966 and then extension “8”
  • Introduce yourself
  • State that you are calling about the case of José Demar Fuentes who was separated from his 14-month old son Mateo in San Diego on November 16th and express your concern. Demand that they be reunified and released immediately, along with Carlos Batres, Eric Matute and Walter Ramirez, who were also separated from their children.
  • José Demar Fuentes
  • A 216 267 970
  • El Salvador
  • Remind them that CBP policy states that “CBP will maintain family unity to the greatest extent operationally feasible, absent a legal requirement or an articulable safety or security concern that requires separation.

  • Marca (619) 652–9966 y luego extensión “8”
  • Preséntate
  • Establece que estás llamando sobre el caso de José Demar Fuentes que fue separado de su hijo Mateo de 14 meses en San Diego el 16 de noviembre y expresa tu preocupación. Exige que se reúnan y se liberen de inmediato, junto con Carlos Batres, Eric Matute y Walter Ramirez, quienes también fueron separados de sus hijos.
  • José Demar Fuentes
  • A 216 267 970
  • El Salvador
  • Recuérdeles que la política de CBP establece que “CBP mantendrá la unidad familiar en la mayor medida factible desde el punto de vista operativo, sin un requisito legal o una preocupación de seguridad o protección articulable que requiera separación.

Write Letters/Fax/Email to CBP, ICE, and DHS :

Please write immediately in English or your own language:

  • Calling on CBP authorities to follow US national detention standards that require them to process family members together and maintain family unity;
  • Calling on ICE to immediately reunite the four families in family detention; expedite the families’ parole; and, whenever possible, provide alternatives to detention for all families as their asylum claims are considered;
  • Urging the DHS Inspector General to investigate CBP and ICE practices, to ensure DHS agency officials are not separating asylum-seeking parents from their children in detention in violation of US polices on family unity.



Border Community Liaison
Toby Don Sosbee
US Customs and Border Protection
San Diego Field Office
610 W. Ash Street Suite 1200
San Diego, CA 92101 USA
Salutation: Dear Mr. Sosbee


ICE San Diego Field Office Director
Gregory J. Archambeault
ICE San Diego Field Office
880 Front Street #2232
San Diego, CA 92101 USA
Salutation: Dear Mr. Archambeault


DHS Inspector General
John Ruth
Office of Inspector General/MAIL STOP 0305
Department of Homeland Security
245 Murray Lane SW
Washington, DC 20528–0305 USA
Fax: +1 202–254–4297
Salutation: Dear Mr. Roth

Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country.

More on the story in Univision:

And Buzzfeed:

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