After 12 years, two Guatemalan siblings have been reunited with their mother in Portland. Lillian Perez wept quietly in Portland International Airport late March 28 as she enveloped her teenage children, who now soar over the tiny woman.
For their part, Adela and José Perez held their mother tightly and came up for air only briefly to wave to a crowd of more than 100 gathered to welcome them with signs and cheers. Many on hand were workers from Catholic Charities, which engineered the reunification.
Lillian Perez fled violence in Guatemala to create a better home in the United States for her family. She judged the journey too dangerous for the tiny children. She made it across the border, but finances and the complexity of U.S. immigration law repeatedly delayed her attempts to bring Adela and José to join her.
Refugee resettlement workers and an immigration legal team from Catholic Charities used a recent law to bring about the overdue reunification.
In 2014, as thousands of unaccompanied children from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras were undertaking the dangerous journey to find safety in the United States, President Obama implemented the Central American Minors program in order to create a safe passage for reunification. A rigorous and often overwhelming application sometimes dissuaded parents.
After many dispatches to the Guatemalan Consulate, DNA tests, medical examinations, rigorous vetting, and years of waiting, Catholic Charities received notice that Adela and José were cleared to join their mother in Oregon.
It came just in time, as Obama-era immigration policy is being overhauled by the Trump administration.
“This is community. This is love,” said Marta Guembes Herrera, an official at the Guatemalan consulate in Portland. She held an excited and nervous Lillian in the moments before Adela and José stepped off the plane.
Toc Soneoulay-Gillespie, head of refugee resettlement at Catholic Charities, says getting the family back together feels like a milestone.
“During a time of such divisiveness in our country, let us stand together in solidarity and show this courageous family that they matter and that they belong — in the United States of America,” Soneoulay-Gillespie said in an email to fellow Catholic Charities workers.
Catholic Charities says nine staff have been impacted as a result of Trump administration executive orders and reduction in the number of refugees. Five worked for a refugee support team and four were case managers.
“Our agency is making every effort to find work for these valued staff members in other areas, but the overall impact on the refugee program has been significant,” says Heli DelMoral, a Catholic Charities spokesman.