Immigrant father accused of being in a gang reunites with children after 184 days

Father separated from kids for 184 days

Last Updated May 31, 2019 12:49 PM EDT

In the series "Separated and Counting," CBS News looks at the real-life impact of immigration policies that have led to families being split apart.


Nearly a year after the president's "zero tolerance" immigration policy was struck down in court, CBS News learned some migrant families are still being separated at the border. That includes a father and his two children, who spent 184 days apart.

Juan, 7, and 11-year-old Sofia remember the last time they saw their father, they were in tears. CBS News changed their names for their safety.

They were separated six months ago, after their father, Adolfo, brought them across the Texas border, saying he was fleeing extortion and death threats from El Salvador's notorious gangs. Adolfo said he was told if he returned home, they would shred his children. He showed CBS News messages, threatening to kill the entire family. But he would not get to make his plea for asylum before a judge.

Instead, he said U.S. Border Patrol accused him of being a gang member. Adolfo showed CBS News a letter his lawyers say is from the government of El Salvador, showing he had no criminal history. He also showed that he has no tattoos, which are a trademark of Salvadoran gangs.

Adolfo said he asked to speak with a lawyer, but was refused. He was detained in McAllen, Texas and Sofia and Juan were sent to live with their mother in Seattle.Six months later, Adolfo was released after the attorneys who took up his case said they convinced government lawyers he was not a danger to the community.

After 184 days of being separated, he got to hug his children again.

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Juan and Sofia look for their father after they were separated for 184 days. CBS News

Juan said when they were apart, he felt like his entire life was over.

The Trump administration is looking to fast-track deportations by training some border patrol agents to screen asylum cases, not just trained asylum officers. Immigration advocates argue Adolfo's case shows that approach could end with legitimate asylum cases being dismissed.

"The government has used the mandate of zero tolerance to prosecute all asylum seekers, to find these loopholes and find any little reason, even if it's unsubstantiated," said Laura Pena, a visiting attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, representing Adolfo.

CBS News reached out to Customs and Border Protection for comment on Adolfo's case, but did not hear back.

Family separations are "still ongoing," attorney says

According to the Texas Civil Rights Project, Adolfo's case is not unique.

"We're not seeing hundreds of separation per week. But we are seeing over a dozen separations a week," said Efren Olivares with the Texas Civil Rights Project. 

That's because the government can separate a child if there is concern for their safety or criminal activity by the accompanying adult.

"What happens when a U.S. citizen faces that situation? You get child protective services involved. You have a court hearing," Olivares said. "It's different treatment based solely on their immigration status."

Adolfo, Sofia and Juan are now awaiting asylum hearings and trying to rebuild their lives together.