A 1-year-old boy in federal custody who appeared in immigration court without his parents in Phoenix briefly played with a ball, drank from a bottle, then “cried hysterically” as he was about to leave the courtroom Friday, according to The Associated Press.
But he was eventually granted a voluntary departure order so the government can fly him to Honduras, where his father has already been sent.
The little boy, identified in court only as Johan, was one of the children who appeared in the Arizona court Friday without parents. One boy held up five fingers when the judge asked him his age.
Judge John Richardson said he was “embarrassed to ask” if Johan understood the proceedings, AP reported. “I don’t know who you would explain it to, unless you think that a 1-year-old could learn immigration law,” he told Johan’s attorney.
Immigration advocates have complained about children going to court, calling it stressful and frightening. People in immigration proceedings, even children, are not guaranteed an attorney, although most unaccompanied minors do appear with representation. There are no physical accommodations for children, many of whom can’t even see over defense tables without booster seats.
“There are no booster seats ... no teddy bears. It’s a cold immigration court, and these kids are sitting in chairs that are too big for them; their feet don’t even touch the floor,” immigration attorney Lindsay Toczylowski told CNN last month.
Johan, who did have an attorney, was reportedly separated from his dad at the U.S. border. AP did not report the reason for their separation or the timing. The Trump administration enacted a zero tolerance immigration policy earlier this year to refer all illegal border crossers for criminal prosecution, which led to thousands of children being split up from their parents. Some parents were deported without their children after signing a waiver.
Trump countermanded his own separation policy with an executive order he signed June 20. But now his administration is under court order to reunite children with families.
Some 3,000 migrant children remain in government custody after being separated from their parents, and about 100 of them are under the age of 5, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. The New York Times has reported that some records on the separated families have been lost or even destroyed, raising the possibility that some children may never be reunited with their families. In addition, the U.S. has already deported at least 19 parents of children under the age of 5 and in federal custody.
A federal judge in San Diego ordered the Trump administration to reunite children under 5 with their parents within 14, and within 30 days for older children. The first deadline is July 10.
Lawyers for HHS asked for an extension last week — and argued that federal officials shouldn’t be required to reunite children with parents who have already been deported. Judge Dana Sabraw, who set the deadlines, is set to hold a hearing Monday on the extension request, but only in specific cases where the government can demonstrate that it’s necessary. He said Friday that the government must reunite children with their parents, even if the parents have already been deported.
This article has been updated with additional information on immigration courts.
Elise Foley contributed to this report.
CORRECTIONS: A previous version of this story misidentified Judge Dana Sabraw as a woman. Also, a previous version misspelled the last name of immigration attorney Lindsay Toczylowski.