This Story of a Baby’s Day in Immigration Court Without His Parents is Gut-Wrenching

Family separation is forcing kids to go into deportation hearings alone.

Children protest the Trump administration's family separation in Los Angeles on June 26, 2018.Richard Vogel/AP

As hundreds of children separated from their parents by the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy wait to be reunited, young children and babies are facing deportation proceedings alone. A gut-wrenching story from the Associated Press details the scene in one of those hearings, where a one-year-old boy appeared before an immigration judge in Phoenix, Arizona, on Friday.

Johan was brought to the United States from Honduras by his father, who, according to the boy’s attorney, was removed from the United States under a false promise that he’d be able to leave with his son. The child’s mother is also in Honduras. Johan is currently in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Johan “drank milk from a bottle” and “played with a small purple ball that lit up when it hit the ground” as he awaited his hearing, according to the AP. He also occasionally asked for “agua,” and at one point during the hearing, he appeared with socks but no shoes.

During the hearing, immigration judge John Richardson said he was “embarrassed” to ask the child if he understood the proceedings. “I’m embarrassed to ask it, because I don’t know who you would explain it to, unless you think that a 1-year-old could learn immigration law,” Richardson told the child’s lawyer. After the hearing, the child “cried hysterically” as he was handed off between adults.

Children in immigration proceedings are not entitled to legal representation. About 90 percent of migrant children without a lawyer are ultimately deported, according to Kids in Need of Defense, a Texas-based group that provides legal representation to migrant children.

The Trump administration has until Tuesday to reunite children under the age of five with their families under a recent order by a federal judge in San Diego, and until July 26 to reunite all others. The Trump administration has asked for a blanket extension of the deadline, but the judge indicated last week that extensions would be granted on a case-by-case basis.

The judge who heard Johan’s case granted him a voluntary departure order, which would allow the federal government to fly him back to Honduras and be reunited with his parents.