Mothers heard pleading for their children at immigration detention center

A court-ordered deadline for reunifying 2,551 migrant children separated from their parents is set for Thursday.
by Annie Rose Ramos, Gabe Gutierrez and Julia Ainsley /  / Updated 

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MCALLEN, Texas — NBC News has obtained exclusive audio recordings of two mothers in a Texas immigration detention center telling a judge they want to be reunited with their children.

"What I want, before anything, is to have my daughter with me," one woman said through tears. "I just want my daughter with me."

The woman told Judge Robert Powell at the Port Isabel Detention Center that her 17-year-old daughter is being held in Phoenix. The woman says she fears returning to Honduras because "there is no security."

The second woman tells the judge that her daughter is being held in New York.

"Do you want to take your daughter with you back to your country?" Powell asks. The woman says yes.

NBC News received permission from the women's attorney to share audio of the hearings on the condition that they not be identified by name. The two hearings were conducted before Judge Powell at the immigration court in the Port Isabel Detention Center on July 11.

An attorney told NBC News on Thursday that since the hearings, both mothers have been reunited with their children. One family was released and one family is in detention.

Immigration judges have the authority to grant asylum or order deportation, but are not positioned to rule on whether parents should be reunified with their children.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement as well as Health and Human Services are responsible for reunifying 2,551 children separated from their parents, many of whom were separated under Trump's "zero tolerance policy," The agencies have a court-ordered deadline for reunification by the end of Thursday.

But according to affidavits filed by the ACLU in federal court on Wednesday, many parents do not understand the process or their legal rights. The ACLU laid out 27 cases where parents were misled into signing away their rights for reunification.

While proceedings like these are regularly held across the country, they're indicative of the emotional strife separated parents are facing as they struggle to reunite with their children while also securing a path toward asylum rather than deportation.

According to Syracuse University’s TRAC Immigration Project, Powell denies nearly 80 percent of asylum requests.

In both cases, Powell denied the asylum requests and ordered the women to be deported, though have not been sent yet to their home countries.

There remains a temporary hold on deporting parents separated from their children and the ACLU is asking the federal judge overseeing the reunification efforts to enforce a 7-day mandate for holding reunified families in the country so that lawyers may reach them to provide counsel.

Gabe Gutierrez and Annie Rose Ramos reported from McAllen Texas. Julia Ainsley reported from Washington, D.C.

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