AUSTIN, Texas — What happens to a little boy growing up with strangers? He didn’t speak their language, didn’t know their culture
What happens to Byron Xol-Cholom, a boy from Guatemala? He crossed the Texas-Mexico border with his dad, David. Court documents show they crossed illegally on May 18, 2018.
David asked for asylum for himself and his son. Back in Guatemala, David was repeatedly threatened and beaten for preaching Christianity. The U.S. government arrested David and took Byron away.
"Sir, do you have anything to say on your behalf?" asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Juan Alanis in court a few days after David and Byron crossed.
"If I were to be deported immediately, I would like to be deported with my son," David said.
David was deported soon after – but the government didn’t give him his son back.
Seven-year-old Byron was left alone in government custody.
"It is a policy of the U.S. government at this time to separate minors from adults," Alanis told those in the courtroom. "We understand it puts you in a hard situation ... Unfortunately for you, I’m not in a position to give you other answers in regards to you being separated from your minors," Alanis said.
David pled guilty to illegal entry.
Byron’s pro bono attorney, Ricardo DeAnda, helped him find a home with Holly and Matthew Sewell, a family in Central Texas.
"We started talking about what we wanted to have happen to our children," Holly Sewell said.
The family and DeAnda fought the government to be able to bring Byron home.
"With Holly’s family, we feel safe that he will have good health and the feelings of being a child," David said in an interview with KVUE in early 2019.
The family rehabbed Byron's leg, which he broke in detention, and they took him to counseling.
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It took 600 days to get Byron back with his dad.
"He's bigger. He was small like this," David said with tears in his eyes when they were reunited.
David was able to come back to the U.S. for the asylum process. But what happens to a little boy who spent 600 days away from his dad?
"They're going to have to learn who each other is all over again. It's been two years. I mean, almost two years. That's over a quarter of Byron's life," Holly Sewell said.
Now nine years old, Byron has to adjust again.
"I think when people hear the stories about the reunions and they see our story and see David being reunified with Byron and how wonderful of a moment that is, they think of it as this heartwarming story and that it's complete. It’s an ending of their trauma, but it's not. It's a tragedy. It’s not heartwarming at all. It’s a horrible thing," Holly Sewell said.
What happens to the 545 kids still in U.S. custody because officials lost track of their parents?
Justice in Motion is a nonprofit whose mission is to defend the rights of migrants. They sent flyers all around Central America, and they used radio to try to find parents.
Byron is not one of them. But his story is the story of America's broken system.
"We have tortured this family and so many other families by tearing apart the family unit itself," Holly Sewell said.
So, what happens to a child separated from their family? We don’t know yet.
"We're using children as fodder right now, and it's disgusting, " Holly Sewell said.
Byron is in school, and David has a permit to work. Their immigration case is pending.
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