Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents detained three young girls for about 13 hours at Chicago O’Hare International airport after traveling with a cousin from Mexico on Thursday. The girls, 9, 10 and 13, were detained around 3 a.m. Thursday morning, according to WGN9. The girls had the necessary paperwork but their cousin was not a U.S. citizen.
“U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officers attempted numerous times today to reach family members to pick up the children,” a CBP spokesperson told The Hill, noting that the girls’ mother picked them up at 4 p.m. “without incident.” Their cousin is a Mexican citizen deemed “inadmissible” though no reason was provided for this, and this led to the detainment of the girls. According to the Chicago Tribune, CBP said the children were given food and drinks while they were detained at the airport. An official from the Mexican Consulate assisted in reaching an agreement so that the girls’ mother, Silvia, could pick them up without worrying about being taken into custody since she’s not a citizen.
“I was really scared but I reacted and thought, we have rights and I called the Mexican Consulate,” she told the Chicago Tribune in Spanish. “I thank God I made that decision.” Mony Ruiz-Velasco, of PASO West Suburban Action Project, is the family’s attorney and said it should not have taken so much effort for the detained children to be released into their mother’s custody. Ruiz-Velasco said he got a notarized letter signed by their mother allowing him to take the girls home but officials wouldn’t release them till their mother arrived.
The Tribune reports that the mother also sent her son and daughter-in-law, a U.S. citizen, to pick up the girls, but they were turned away. Activists who rushed to the airport are alleging that their detainment was actually a means to arrest their undocumented parents when they arrived to pick them up. U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, who was already at the airport, made her way to the CBP office once she learned about what had happened. “I feel that it’s a kind of kidnapping of children by our government, and I’m really fed up with what we are doing,” Schakowsky told the Tribune.
Though this was apparently not a bait and switch detainment, with the recent ICE raids and the border crisis, there’s a heightened sense of fear among immigrant communities and now it seems to be directly affecting children even more.