An 8-year-old Guatemalan child who has spent approximately 11 months in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement was released on Monday—and he is thrilled.
The development follows U.S. District Judge Fernando Rodriguez’s order to the ORR, directing that agency to disregard an internal regulation that had barred a potential sponsor family from taking care of the child, named Byron, because they did not have a pre-existing relationship with the child or his family prior to when Byron and his father, David Xol, illegally crossed the Rio Grande in May 2017 during the height of zero-tolerance family separations.
“He seems, what’s the word, thrilled would be the way to describe it; to be out of detention after 11 months and he’s resilient, which is amazing,” said Ricardo de Anda, the boy’s attorney. “He’s got two new playmates that are just absolutely taking him under their wings. So he’s in good company.”
Those playmates are the children of Holly and Matthew Sewell, a married couple from Buda, Texas, who sought to sponsor Byron seven months ago after hearing about family separations. The family sought a child to sponsor to get them out of a detention and connected with de Anda and Byron.
“It was hard for them to believe it after seven months,” de Anda said. “We first put in our application seven months ago and so they’ve been at this for seven months so when it finally happened it was hard to believe.”
Photos posted to social media by the attorney show Byron smiling and eating barbecue with the Sewells after they picked him up from an airport.
Byron, however, is confined to a wheelchair after suffering a broken leg while playing soccer while in ORR custody, but he is all smiles in photos, where he is shown playing with the Sewell’s children.
“I met him at the airport. I went with him and his sponsors to his new home. We spoke with his parents, both at the airport and once he was home and so they have so much relief that their child was no longer in the government’s control and that he’s now with somebody that they can rely on to not only provide proper care but maintain communication with their child,” de Anda said.
The Sewells have developed a relationship with Byron’s parents through video chat and have promised to make sure Byron is in frequent contact with his parents via video chat.
While Byron was granted relief from custody, de Anda said there are thousands of children who face the same challenge Byron faced: no family or friends inside the country that they knew prior to crossing the Rio Grande.
“There’s literally thousands of children that are in this situation, that have no family in the U.S. and who are therefore under their rule … what they call Category 4 children, which are children with no eligible sponsors,” de Anda said.
As for Rodriguez’s ruling, which was brought on after de Anda took the case to a federal court in Brownsville, he still wants to make sure the ORR pays for Byron’s medical needs regarding his broken leg.
“I’m still digesting where I’m at. I want to make sure that ORR is responsible for his medical care, given that he was injured while he was under ORR’s care, and there may be other issues that come up that I can’t foresee now,” de Anda said.
Meanwhile, in a federal court in San Diego, de Anda has filed a case seeking to have Byron’s father brought to the U.S. so that he can be re-unified with his child.
If that happens, de Anda said he wants to file asylum claims for Byron and his father, David, who originally fled Guatemala after being nearly killed by gang members who also threatened Byron.
David refused to join the gang because that life is not compatible with his Christian faith.
Once in custody, court documents indicate that David claims he was told the only way to avoid being separated from Byron was to sign self-deportation paperwork.
He signed and his son was taken away, according to court records describing David’s claims.