Immigration Law

Guatemalan lawyer travels to remote areas, sometimes by foot, to help reunite separated families

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Guatemalan human rights lawyer Eriberto Pop travels by car, motorcycle and foot to find parents separated from their children in the United States and deported without them under a controversial Trump administration program that has since been rescinded.

The Washington Post chronicled Pop’s journey to a remote area of Guatemala to find “Pedro C.,” who was separated from his 13-year-old son, Wilson, in 2017 and flown back to Guatemala City.

Wilson was living in the United States with his uncle, who was the boy’s legal guardian until he was deported in 2018. The uncle’s phone number went dead, and now Pop was trying to find Pedro based on a description provided by a U.S. nonprofit called Justice in Motion.

The Biden administration has pledged to reunite separated families in the United States. About three dozen families have been reunited so far, “but the process has been slowed by logistical hurdles, both in the United States and Central America,” the Washington Post reports.

Information on missing parents is dispatched from the U.S. government to legal organizations that rely on searchers such as Pop.

Pop sometimes braves harsh conditions to find people. Often, he sleeps on schoolhouse floors. So far, he has found 80 parents. Throughout Central America, 275 parents remain to be found. Some deported parents went into hiding in their home countries. Others sold their homes to pay smugglers and had nowhere to live.

Villagers are reluctant to cooperate when searchers ask questions. Many deportees don’t want to talk because they fear that they will be punished or their homes will be seized.

To find Pedro, Pop traveled eight hours by car and several hours by motorcycle. He climbed a muddy slope on foot and found the one-room hut where Pedro and his family lived. Pedro had pledged his home as collateral to pay a smuggler, and it was seized soon after he returned to Guatemala.

Pedro has been in communication with his son by traveling to town once per week and speaking through through WhatsApp calls. The youth, who lives in Arkansas, is mostly living alone.

Pop said he would forward Pedro’s information to the United States but was careful not to promise too much.

“I promise nothing yet,” Pop told Pedro. “We are just going to wait.”

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