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US government argues that family torn apart at border must wait its turn to be reunited

The government argued Thursday in Massachusetts District Court that it was unfair for a 9-year-old boy who was taken from his mother at the US-Mexico border and is being held in Texas to “leapfrog over children with the same issues ” and be immediately reunited with his mother.

Assistant US Attorney Eve Piemonte told US District Judge George A. O’Toole Jr. that the government is “on track” to reunite mother and son by July 26 as ordered by a federal judge in California.

Nearly 3,000 children were taken by the government at the border under President Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy, and late last month, the judge in California ordered the reunification of those under age 5 by Thursday and all others by the end of the month.

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But four Massachusetts women sued, saying the government had placed unreasonable roadblocks in their paths to reunite with their children. All but one, a 35-year-old Brazilian woman identified only by her initials W.R., have since been reunited with their children.

W.R. fled Brazil with her 9-year-old son, identified as A.R., after her husband became violent toward them both and tried to pull the 9-year-old into drug trafficking, her attorney Lucy Heenan Ewins argued in court. W.R. crossed the border in Arizona and, seeking asylum, presented herself to immigration authorities.

She and her son were then taken into custody but held in separate “cages” for two days, she said. Immigration authorities removed her son from his enclosure, and she hasn’t seen him since. That was 43 days ago as of Thursday.

“There is nothing here that says A.R. needs to leapfrog the line,” Piemonte argued. “While it might be traumatic for him, it might not be any more traumatic than any other child.”

She said reuniting mother and son before the July 26 deadline would “divert resources from an orderly and timely reunification” of the other children who remain separated from their parents.

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The boy, she said, has normal eating and sleeping patterns, enjoys learning Spanish, has access to Portuguese-speaking staff members at the facility where he’s being held, sees a counselor, and speaks with his mother four times a week.

Heenan Ewins called the government’s assertions “preposterous” and “simply not credible.”

“He is a victim of abuse. He is a traumatized child, and he is being traumatized over and over again,” she said, adding that the government has not given any “legitimate” rationale for delaying the family’s reunification.

W.R. and her brother and sister-in-law, who they will live with in Massachusetts, have been fingerprinted for criminal background checks, and a site visit of the home has been conducted.

O’Toole did not issue a ruling Thursday, saying he would take “the matter under advisement.”


Akilah Johnson can be reached at akilah.johnson@globe.com.