CHICAGO (AP) — A Congolese mother has been reunited with her 7-year-old daughter months after they crossed the California-Mexico border seeking asylum and were separated by the U.S. government, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer said Saturday.
The daughter had been placed in a Chicago facility while the mother was held in San Diego, about 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers) away, after they entered the U.S. in November and turned themselves in to U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents. The mother was released from detention earlier this month.
Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project, said the woman was allowed to travel to Chicago from San Diego on Tuesday, after a DNA test requested by the government confirmed she was the girl's mother. He says the daughter was released late Friday and brought to a Chicago shelter where she and her mother will be staying.
"They were hugging each other and sobbing," Gelernt said. "It was just incredibly emotional."
The woman is at the center of an ACLU lawsuit accusing the government of unlawfully separating immigrant families. Gerlent says the ACLU continues to pursue the lawsuit on behalf of other parents, many of whom are "facing the same trauma" as the Congolese mother and daughter.
A hearing in the case is scheduled is scheduled next month in San Diego.
The ACLU says President Donald Trump's administration is targeting families seeking asylum under U.S. law. While no formal policy has been announced to hold adult asylum seekers separately from their children, top administration officials have said the system is overwhelmed by people making false asylum claims.
A 1997 settlement in a long-running lawsuit over treatment of immigrant children requires the U.S. government to release the children from custody when possible or otherwise hold them in the "least restrictive setting" available.
The Trump administration has called for ending the settlement as part of changes it's seeking to immigration laws.
The woman reunited with her daughter Friday is from a village in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and speaks little English. According to the ACLU lawsuit, she passed the initial screening to determine whether she had a "credible fear" of returning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The ACLU has withheld the identities of the woman and child citing potential danger if they are denied asylum and returned to Congo.