Almost a week ago, BuzzFeed News posted a story with an alarming headline, “Immigrant Father Says Immigration Agents Took His Infant Son and Won’t Tell Him Where He Is.” The story, which caused outrage online, explained that upon arrival at the border, 30-year-old Jose Demar Fuentes’ son was taken away from him. In an updated piece, the publication reports that even though US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials claimed Demar Fuentes couldn’t prove he was related to son Mateo and didn’t have ID or passport, the Salvadoran man reportedly arrived with a birth certificate and an ID.
“Mr. Fuentes did not have a passport or birth certificate or other form of identifying documents to verify he was the father of the child, and the child was too young to answer the officers’ questions,” said Lauren Mack, an ICE spokeswoman, to the publication.
As ICE reviews the case, advocates believe this is just another strategy to curtail immigration. “They’re just trying something they never should’ve done in the first place, and it’s a clear lie because we have proof,” Erika Pinheiro, policy director for immigration services group Al Otro Lado, told BuzzFeed News. “This is the administration’s way of punishing families and deterring people from seeking asylum.”
Earlier this year, the Department of Homeland Security considered separating children from their mothers if they crossed the border without documentation. The move was heavily criticized, and weeks later, John Kelly, former US Secretary of Homeland Security, backtracked and said the administration didn’t plan on splitting children and mothers, according to CNN. He did add that “we might under certain circumstances do that, but I don’t think I’ve ever said as a deterrent or something like that.”
Demar Fuentes is part of the growing number of Central American fathers crossing the border with their children. He says that he’s not the only person who had his child taken away from him. He said that immigration agents told him and three other fathers that their if they didn’t agree to sign off on the separation, their cases would become more complicated. “The last time they said we’d better agree because it was ‘better to do it the good way and avoid using force in front of the kids,’” he told BuzzFeed. “That made us all agree.”