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Guatemalan Man Deported Without 9-Year-Old Son


The Trump administration has one week left to meet a court-ordered deadline to reunite thousands of children who were separated at the border from their migrant parents. Many of them are suspected of entering the U.S. illegally. Logistically, this is going to be tough. The kids were sent to shelters and foster homes around the country, in some cases, thousands of miles from their parents. Another complication - some of the parents have already been deported. NPR's Carrie Kahn has the story of a man in Guatemala who is desperate to be reunited with his 9-year-old son.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Rudy Migdael Ramirez opens the chain-link lock to his concrete house outside the town of Jutiapa in southern Guatemala. He shows me around me.

RUDY MIGDAEL RAMIREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "This is my son, Rudy Jr.'s, room. There's his bicycle and all his toys," says Ramirez. Why no bed, I ask. It's next door in his and his wife's room, he says. They've always all slept in the same room together, not wanting to be apart.

R. RAMIREZ: (Through interpreter) I just want them back here with all of us sleeping together again. That's what I ask God for. Every night, I ask God for mercy. It's so painful not to have my son here, not to have my wife.

KAHN: Ramirez says in early May, he and his wife began getting phone calls, threatening calls.

R. RAMIREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "First, they called her phone saying they were going to kill her. Then they called mine and said they would kill all of us," he says. He doesn't know who it was, but he reported the calls to the police. It's not uncommon for gangs to extort and threaten residents in Jutiapa say officials. The calls kept coming, so Ramirez says the family fled north. He says on June 8 when they started to cross illegally into Texas, he and his son got separated from his wife. Soon after, he and Rudy Jr. were picked up by the Border Patrol. Ramirez says he told the officers about the threats.

R. RAMIREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "They told me, why don't you apply for asylum in Mexico or Argentina, anywhere but here," says Ramirez. The following day around 2 in the morning, the guards came for Rudy Jr. He says his son cried and cried. Ramirez tried to comfort him, telling him he wouldn't go back to Guatemala without him. Rudy Jr. was sent to a shelter in New York City. Ramirez says the officer gave him a bunch of papers to sign.

R. RAMIREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "I asked them if they were for my deportation, and they just laughed at me," he says. He tried to show the officers the police forms he was carrying documenting the death threats. But according to Ramirez, the officer told him that the documents weren't valid in the U.S. and that his son would be on the plane with him once he was deported. Rudy Jr. wasn't on the plane, and that was June 14. Ramirez hasn't seen his son since, nor has the boy's mother. She crossed into the U.S. a few days after her husband and son, hoping to reunite with them. She turned herself in to the Border Patrol. She's been in detention in Texas ever since. Jodi Goodwin, her lawyer, says the mother is distraught.

JODI GOODWIN: Oh, my God. She's beside herself. She's deathly terrified that she might get deported and her son will get stuck here and that they'll give her son to somebody else.

KAHN: Goodwin says the government has been making efforts in the past few days to meet the court-imposed reunification deadline. But she says it's unclear whether reunification will extend to parents already deported. Immigration and Customs Enforcement did not return requests for information about deported parents and how they will be reunited, nor about the Ramirez family's case. NPR could not independently confirm their story.

In the family's Guatemalan hometown, buses pull up for passengers in front of Jutiapa's main plaza. Oscar Folgar's sparse office overlooks the plaza. He's with the Foreign Relations Ministry of Guatemala.

OSCAR FOLGAR: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "At least 40 parents have been returned here and are waiting for their children to come back," says Folgar. "The wait is excruciating for them," he adds. The Ramirez family knows that all too well. Maria Mendez Ramirez lives just down the street from her son.

MARIA MENDEZ RAMIREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "It's been two months - nearly two months - since I've seen my baby," she says sobbing. She says she doesn't wish this anguish on any parent or grandparent and urges those heading to the U.S. to reconsider. Late last night, Ramirez got word that his wife had been processed for release. She was in a holding area waiting for Rudy Jr. to arrive from a New York shelter. When or how the three will reunite, Ramirez says he doesn't know. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Jutiapa, Guatemala. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.