U.S. Customs and Border Patrol detained three American citizen children at O’Hare Airport for more than 12 hours Thursday after arriving on a flight from Mexico. The children, whose parents are both undocumented residents of the U.S., were traveling with their adult cousin who is a Mexican national and, according to a lawyer working with the family, had written permission from the parents to be accompany the children on the journey. The three girls aged 13, 10, and 9 arrived early in the morning Thursday, were detained and barred entry into the country along with their cousin chaperon who immigration authorities deemed “inadmissible.” The family’s lawyer said the cousin had arrived with a valid tourist visa to enter the U.S.
Immigration authorities refused to release the American children, even after presented with a letter from their mother authorizing their release to an intermediary because the girls’ mother, who only identified herself by her first name Silvia, was afraid she would be arrested and deported if she showed up to claim her children. “U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officers have attempted numerous times today to reach family members to pick up the children, “ the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol said in a statement during the standoff. As of 2 pm [Central time] CBP Officers are still awaiting a legal guardian to arrive and pick the children up.” A government official told ABC News that the border agents did not know the parents were undocumented and they were not holding the children as a means to trap the parents. Others weren’t so sure about that and as news of the detainment spread, activists began protesting at the airport. Similarly unconvinced that immigration officials weren’t attempting to entrap her using her children as bait, Silvia contacted the Mexican consulate for help.
Lawyers working with the family were finally able to negotiate a deal that would allow the mother to pick up her children without being arrested. Later in the afternoon, accompanied by a community lawyer, a representative from the Mexican consulate, and U.S. Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, Silvia was able to safely retrieve her children from the airport without being arrested. Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker confirmed their release on twitter and accused the immigration agency of using American children as pawns. “Using children as pawns to advance a racist and xenophobic immigration policy is appalling and un-American, and I will not let it stand in Illinois,” Pritzker tweeted.