‘Imagine the joy’ Father, 4-year-old son reunite in US immigration crisis

SAN BENITO, Texas: With tears and smiles, Salvadoran asylum seeker Walter Armando Jimenez Melendez reunited with his 4-year-old son Jeremy on Tuesday after six weeks of anguished separation.
“(I went) without knowing where he was — if he was eating, how they were treating him,” said Jimenez, 29, as he shared a meal with his child for the first time since May. “Imagine the joy I felt.”
The father said that he and his son were overcome with emotion when they set eyes on each other. The boy cried, he said. Asked if he was happy to see his dad, Jeremy shyly smiled and nodded.
Jimenez, who was held in two different facilities in Texas, said he did not learn he would rejoin Jeremy until four hours before and did not believe it until he saw the boy.
Jeremy was among 63 children under the age of five whom Judge Dana Sabraw in US District Court in San Diego ordered the US government to reunite with their parents by Tuesday. They were separated by immigration officials when they crossed into the United States from Mexico.
On Tuesday, Sabraw told government attorneys he would not extend the deadlines set two weeks ago for the children under five or for 2,000 other children to be reunited by July 26.
The government had asked Sabraw to extend the deadlines because it needed time to test DNA to confirm family relationships, run background checks, find parents who were released from custody and review parental fitness.
“We’ve saved kids’ lives by keeping them from being with some really evil people some of them,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told CNN, adding that 38 children were to be reunited on Tuesday.
US President Donald Trump, who took his hardline policy on immigration to the White House from the 2016 election campaign, was dismissive of reporters’ questions about the missed deadline.
“Tell people not to come to our country illegally,” he said. “That’s the solution.”
Not all of those separated from their children, however, had crossed the border illegally. Some, like Jimenez, walked up to a border crossing point and asked for asylum.
After US immigration officials brought Jimenez and his son together on Tuesday afternoon, the pair went to La Posada Providencia, an emergency shelter for refugees in San Benito, Texas near the Mexican border.
Over a dinner of rice, bread, meat, ice cream and cookies at the shelter, one of the centre’s nuns said a prayer of thanks for the reunion of the boy and his father. Jeremy, dressed in a denim jacket, smiled broadly at hearing his name mentioned.
— Reuters