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Jupiter man's 5-year-old granddaughter separated from family at border, lawyer says

Posted at 4:42 PM, Jun 19, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-19 19:18:26-04

Outrage over the separation of families at the U.S. border with Mexico has spread to Palm Beach County, where at a rally Tuesday morning, a local lawyer said a Jupiter man's granddaughter was among those children taken away from their families after crossing the border into the U.S. in recent weeks.

“One of the most horrendous things that’s happened in my lifetime," said Jill Hanson, a lawyer who volunteers for a local organization that helps immigrants.

Hanson said the man immigrated from Guatemala years ago after being the victim of a violent crime there. The organization Hanson volunteers for helped the man secure a visa then and now he's working on getting legal permanent resident status.

At the end of last week, the man told Hanson his wife and five-year-old granddaughter were separated after crossing the border into the U.S. after escaping Guatemala. His wife hasn't been able to get in touch with the little girl in about 20 days.

“He said that, 'Every time I talk to her, she cries. She doesn’t know what is happening,'” Hanson said.

U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel is working to help the man get in touch with his young granddaughter.

The Democrat also held a rally Tuesday to protest these family separations.

"We are here as parents and we are outraged," she said.

Rep. Frankel plans to go to Texas at the end of the week to visit detention facilities.

"This zero-tolerance policy, we have zero tolerance for this policy," she said.

Mayor Jeri Muoio also attended the rally, asking the crowd if anyone is a parent and then reminding them of the difficulty of simply leaving a young child at home with a babysitter or dropping them off at school for the first time.

"This is going to affect these children for the rest of their lives," Mayor Muoio said. "It’s heartless. It’s horrible."

Boynton Beach Mayor Steven Grant, Greenacres Mayor Joel Flores and Haverhill Councilman Daniel Sohn also attended Tuesday's rally.

"We can all agree that there’s a line over which no person of good will ever cross. There is a base and that base is harming children," said Pam Keith, who is a Democrat running for Florida's District 18 Congressional Seat. "You don’t ever get to do that. Not for any reason or any cause or any policy because if you do that, there’s nothing else that you won’t do."

“It is our duty as an American government to deal compassionately with any child from any nation just as it is the responsibility of foreign families seeking asylum in the U.S. to choose only legal means to enter our nation so they can avoid family disruption. I am confident this process will be improved," said Republican Congressman Brian Mast, who represents the 18th District.

At just seven-years-old, Julia Montejo remembers the anxiety that came with immigrating from Guatemala to the U.S.

“To see little kids, the same ages that I was when I was so nervous about immigration, being torn from their parents, it really honestly breaks my heart," she said.

Montejo came into the U.S. on a tourist visa, but she has family members, including her dad, who went through the border. She grew up in Jupiter and attended Cornell University, but as a DACA recipient, her future is unclear.

"As an immigrant and DACA recipient myself, I know the amount of worry that my mother goes through every single day thinking that we may all be separated," she said. "Our family has four different immigration statuses within it."

However, she's even more concerned right now for the young children who are being traumatized by being separated from their parents and who also won't have a chance to experience a better life, like she did.

"People are coming here to really seek help and instead, they’re not being helped at all and tortured," Montejo said.