June 21, 2018 / 11:12 PM / 3 months ago

Same court, different outcomes in Texas after Trump order on families

EL PASO, Texas (Reuters) - What a difference a day seemed to make for immigrants suspected of illegal border crossing.

Some 19 people, many of whom had been separated from their children, had charges of illegally entering the United States dismissed on Thursday at a federal court hearing in the Texas border city of El Paso, said Vivek Grover, a lawyer for immigrants.

The action came hours after the White House order against separating adults and children went into effect in the immigration crisis.

No further information was immediately available about the cases, and the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas declined comment.

The day before at a hearing in the same courthouse, U.S. Magistrate Judge Leon Schydlower ordered two adults who entered the country with children to remain in custody on charges of suspected illegal entry.

The judge’s order came about two hours before President Donald Trump changed course on Wednesday. Trump, who had staunchly defended his policy of separating parents and children who cross the border from Mexico illegally, signed an executive order to end such separations.

“I don’t know where the children are and the men do not know where the children are,” said Sergio Garcia, an assistant federal public defender for the two.

Manuel Cabrera, 46, came from Honduras with his 6-year-old son, and Abraham Chaj-Us, 24, came with his 15-year-old sister and two brothers, aged 8 and 9.

Chaj-Us and his siblings were abandoned by their parents in Guatemala and came to the United States seeking safety from gang violence, Garcia told the court, seeking his release on bond for a charge of illegal entry.

Chaj-Us, a slight man dressed in a blue jail uniform, was shackled and listened silently to the court proceedings through a translation device.

Garcia wants to bring the case to trial and test if the executive order extends to an adult who cares for his younger siblings.

“Things may change from here forward but how do we repair the retroactive damage?,” Garcia said on Thursday.

Garcia is unsure if the sister, whom he said was raped when she was 13, has been separated from the two brothers after being apprehended in the United States.

A U.S. attorney said in court on Wednesday that if Chaj-Us is deported his siblings will go back with him, and it is within the law to keep all of them in detention until then.

In the Cabrera case, Garcia told the judge the father was only trying to protect his 6-year-old son by coming to the United States, but the judge ordered Cabrera to remain in custody.

Garcia said all his clients who have been separated from their children have largely been kept in the dark as to where their children were being held.

“Just because there are dismissals in the cases on Thursday, are they going to be putting those families back together again?,” he asked.

In McAllen, Texas, on Thursday, public defenders told 17 people whose children had been taken away that their cases would not proceed as scheduled. But a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District said those cases had not been dismissed, while declining further comment on the prosecutor’s plans.

Editing by Frank McGurty and Cynthia Osterman

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