Lawmakers' New Plan to Bring Back Deported Migrants Separated From Families

Dan Gooding / Newsweek
Lawmakers' New Plan to Bring Back Deported Migrants Separated From Families Migrants being deported from the United States in March along a bridge that connects El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. (photo: The New York Times)

Lawmakers are fighting to bring back migrants and their children who have been unfairly deported, with a new resolution which would see them return to the U.S.

Newsweek can reveal that congressmen plan to introduce a resolution, known as Chance to Come Home, that would help migrants return despite not necessarily having legal status.

More than a million migrants have been turned back since 2021, and congressmen are concerned that some have been deprived of the right to live in a place they consider their home.

Newsweek has spoken to two deportees who consider themselves Americans, but were deported to their parents' home countries with no way back to their families.

"I've been away from my family and my kids for seven years now," Tina Hamdi, who was sent to Morocco seven years ago, told Newsweek.

"You wouldn't think that a country you grew up in would just up and turn its back on you for just one thing and not have an understanding of what led up to the situation, either," Tina added, explaining that she was deported after becoming caught up in an abusive relationship.

The resolution is set to be presented in both chambers of Congress in the coming weeks, promoted by Representatives Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), Adriano Espaillat (D-NY) and David Trone (D-MD), along with Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ).

"We are calling for a mechanism to reunite families," Rep. Cleaver told Newsweek.

"I don't want to pretend that it will be easy, because I think many Americans have been poisoned by the language that is used when the subject of immigration arises."

A mother separated from her children

Tina Hamdi was 3-years-old when her parents brought her and her sister to the U.S. from Morocco, and the family put roots down in Ohio.

Her parents worked for years to gain citizenship, while Tina and her sister managed to gain legal status through DACA – the system designed to give some children of migrants legal status.

"My parents never let us feel the difference between us and the other kids, so that's why this situation hurts so much because I never considered myself anything other than an American," she said.

Hamdi, 31, told Newsweek that when she grew up, she got involved in a relationship which became abusive and coercive. In 2017, she was deported after being forced to take prescription drugs into a prison facility for her now ex-husband.

"There is a lot more that goes into this situation," she said. "If it was up to me, I wouldn't have ever done it on my own, or thought to do such things.

"Given the situation I was in with my ex-husband, it was extremely stressful and hard to deal with, so I felt obligated to do what he asked of me."

DACA status can be removed or denied for felony offences, however.

Hamdi has not been able to see her children, aged 11 and 10, since, describing the seven years without them as painful.

"The last time I saw them, it was the morning I was going away, I had a nine-month sentence, so I turned myself in for the nine months," Hamdi added. "On that day, I thought I was going to kiss them goodbye and be able to come back home, but instead immigration took over and didn't allow that."

Hamdi was forced instead to make a life for herself in the home country she never imagined going back to.

She now works as an English teacher in a kindergarten, but is desperate to get back to Ohio.

"There are certain specific things you should be there for, and I am not there for them," Hamdi said, adding that she had only been able to see her parents once since leaving the U.S.

Her hope is that the Chance to Come Home resolution, backed by the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), will allow a more nuanced approach to deportation cases, meaning that surrounding circumstances are taken into account.

Immigration organization says its time for 'basic due process'

The NIJC told Newsweek that it has been working for several years to get to the point where Congress takes notice of families which have been torn apart by a system which, it says, leaves no room for admitting mistakes.

"These are folks who were deported in exceptionally unjust ways," NIJC attorney Nayna Gupta told Newsweek, explaining that some were targeted under the Trump administration for being from African countries.

"[Others] were targeted for exercising their First Amendment rights and speaking out against abuse in immigration detention facilities," Gupta added. "These are people who have strong reasons to present a case for return, but under the current system are unable to meaningfully do so."

The NIJC believes the number of those unfairly deported is in the low-thousands, but said it is hard to truly know due to a lack of data from the Department of Homeland Security.

The group wants the Chance to Come Home resolution to bring about change to the immigration system that it argues doesn't take personal circumstances into account.

Congressman Cleaver told Newsweek that attitudes need to change around the fear of migrants as part of this resolution.

"We are hesitant, in many cases, to separate puppies from their mothers, but we are seemingly developing inhumane practices with people," Rep. Cleaver said.

"When I think about my own four children and that someone would have snatched one of my babies out of the arms of their mother and put them out in a strange country with people they don't know, it just causes me to boil over with frustration and even anger."

A pardoned New Yorker stuck in Haiti

Another deportee trying to get back to the U.S. is Paul Pierrilus, 43, who was deported from New York to Haiti, his parents' home country, in 2021.

He was convicted in 2003 for the Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance in the Third Degree, which sparked immigration proceedings, but he was released from detention in 2006 and worked for around 13 years as a financial consultant in New York.

Pierrilus told Newsweek that while his immigration proceedings were underway, multiple agencies said he could not be deported to Haiti, as he did not hold citizenship there.

"Why I was sent to Haiti is beyond me," he said. "Me being sent to Haiti, I think, was unjust."

Pierrilus has been stuck in a country the U.S. says is too unsafe to travel to since 2021 and told Newsweek that he fears for his life there, saying that the dangers covered in the news are far greater.

"On two random occasions, on the highway, I was shot at," he explained. "My home was burnt, I know three people that were kidnapped, since my deportation I know seven people who have died."

Pierrilus also became sick during the lockdown in Haiti and said the lack of access to medical care was a real concern.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul pardoned Pierrilus in May 2024, but he is still not able to return home to his family.

He told Newsweek that his parents, who are Christian, have faith that he will return home someday and that he has adopted this mindset, hoping to get back home to help his aging parents.

The plan put forward by the congressmen has bolstered his hope, saying it is a clear pathway to being heard.

"A lot of people probably look at this as just numbers," Pierrilus said. "They have removed more than 2 million in the past ten years.

"That is more than seven times that of Rockland County [NY]. That's a lot of people that have families who could be fathers, brothers, sisters, mothers," he added. "So it's a lot of people whose life is in limbo."

NIJC argues system can be fixed

In 2021, the Biden administration introduced a program to bring veterans who had been deported back to the U.S.

The scheme involved examining cases of vets who had been deported, to check for errors and rectify those, which the NIJC believes proves it can be done.

"It's a proof of concept, it shows that they know how to do this," Gupta said. "They have done it for veterans, they can do it for single mothers separated from their kids, they can do it for long-standing members of our community who were targeted by the Trump administration."

Since that scheme was introduced, around 100 veterans have been brought back to the U.S., which the NIJC argues shows that a "floodgate" would not be opened.

Rep. Cleaver said his hope is that the Chance to Come Home resolution could form part of a larger piece of legislation to reform the immigration system.

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