A nine-year-old’s letter to Biden shows just how badly the U.S. immigration system needs fixing
Fernando Ochoa has been separated from his father three times since they came from Guatemala two years ago.
It’s hard to imagine being a young child and having to fight for your parents to stay in the same country as you, or to not have any say in it at all. But for many children of undocumented immigrants, this is their reality.
Nine-year old Fernando Ochoa fled Guatemala with his father, Ubaldo Ochoa Lopez two years ago, and is desperately seeking to prevent his father from being deported. If his dad is sent back to Guatemala, it would be the third time that they have been separated.
Thank you @AliciaMenendez for sharing Ubaldo & Fernando’s story. Little Fernando was separated from his dad under Trump’s family separation policy and now they’ve been re-separated.
We ask @AliMayorkas to #FreeUbaldo so he can be with his son. It’s the least we can do for them. https://t.co/URKgsi61cW
— Erika Andiola (@ErikaAndiola) February 7, 2021
When Lopez and Ochoa traveled to the U.S to seek asylum during the Trump administration, Ochoa was taken from his father due to Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy that was implemented to discourage people from crossing the border illegally.
Two months later, father and son were reunited, but Ochoa was taken away a second time when ICE detained Lopez after being convicted of driving while intoxicated.
Lopez’ attorney, Andani Alcantara told NBC Latino that his offense was only a Class B misdemeanor, but ICE treated it as if it was much more serious.
“It was decided that it is enough reason not to allow Ubaldo to be with his child, who doesn’t have another parent in the U.S,” Alcantara said.
For the last four months, Lopez has been held in an ICE detention center in Pearsall, Texas. On Monday Feb. 1, the Biden administration rolled out some new policies on immigration enforcement, which Alcantara hopes will aid in Lopez’s case, as ICE is supposed to prioritize aggravated felons.
“If Ubaldo is sent back to Guatemala, Fernando is left here without any parent, which is harmful enough in itself,” she said. “But given his history of prior forceful separations by the government, it would be really harmful for him.”
Despite the 100-day moratorium on deportations put in place by President Biden, ICE has been very hesitant to comply with the new guidelines and regulations. Ochoa, fearing that he will be left alone once again, wrote a letter to Biden, pleading with him to let his father stay in the U.S.
On the morning of Wednesday Feb. 3, Ochoa stood outside an immigration court, and handed the letter to his attorney.
“I ask from the bottom of my heart that you release my dad,” Ochoa wrote to the President, in Spanish.
“During Christmas, I was sad for my dad who was not with me. It makes me very sad to see other parents playing with their children because I can’t play with my dad, nor receive a hug,” the nine-year-old wrote.
This little one misses dad. It broke my heart when I read his letter to @JoeBiden. Fernando spent 2 months away from dad in 2018 because of Trump's family separation policy.
They've been re-separated.
Read the letter and sign the petition to #FreeUbaldo https://t.co/uLHg4ATblQ pic.twitter.com/P8XZuX5xpD
— Erika Andiola (@ErikaAndiola) February 3, 2021
Erika Andiola, the chief of advocacy for RAICES, a Texas immigration rights group, said during a news conference on Wednesday, Feb. 5, that the group has been assisting Ochoa with his asylum case, and urging ICE to reunite him with father.
Andiola emphasized that Lopez has already been through the criminal justice system when he was charged and convicted last year.
“He’s being punished twice for something that already happened — even after what we, as a country, did to take away his child,” she said.
“The reality is that ICE always has the discretion to let anybody out of detention, and they are choosing not to,” Andiola continued.
Even as the Biden Admin announces its Family Reunification Task force, ICE is actively seeking to detain & deport pple like Ubaldo, 1st separated from his then 6 year-old son in 2018 under former Trump’s zero tolerance policy. #FreeUbaldo
Watch LIVE https://t.co/R6Nj45GE4E
— RAICES (@RAICESTEXAS) February 3, 2021
On Thursday, Feb. 6, an ICE spokesperson told NBC News via email that Lopez is currently “pending immigration proceedings,” but did not respond to questions surrounding the requests for his release or whether the agency feels that Lopez’s deportation is a priority.
Biden has made a commitment to reforming our broken immigration system, but in only the second month of 2021, it’s clear that true justice will take more than just guidelines and executive orders.
In recent days, ICE has deported at least 269 people to Guatemala and Honduras, and more deportation flights are scheduled to Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cameroon and Honduras.
President Biden and First Lady Dr. Biden have stated that they believe that families belong together. Hopefully, the administration hears Ochoa’s plea and takes a stand against ICE, reuniting father and son for the last time.