At about 11 a.m. Wednesday, Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. took to Twitter with a message: “It’s urgent.”
The senator, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, had learned that a mother and her young son were in the process of being deported to Honduras, Casey said, despite the child’s apparent eligibility for a Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. A photo of the boy had landed on his desk, along with a note saying he had “nowhere to go.” The mother “witnessed the murder of her cousin in Honduras and was being pursued by gangs,” he said.
“Despite that, the Trump admin is planning to put them on a plane TODAY,” Casey said. “A plane ride that can very likely lead to their death.”
The posts began a day-long stream of fiery tweets lambasting the Trump administration and the Department of Homeland Security and calling on the president directly to halt the removal of the 25-year-old woman and her 5-year-old son, who had both been held in a family detention center in Berks County, Pa.
It was a rare display for the usually mild-mannered senator, who said he has voted to double the number of Border Patrol agents and increase fencing and surveillance of the border. Through his tweets, Casey cast a real-time narrative of the imminent deportation, and repeatedly made impassioned pleas to the federal government to “do the right thing.”
He said he placed calls to DHS Secretary John F. Kelly, “telling him to stop this.” He spoke with White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, who promised him the Trump administration was looking into the case, Casey said.
As the day progressed, so did the family’s removal. Casey updated those following the case, tweeting that the family had been ordered onto a plane, though it was unclear whether it was a direct flight or one with a layover. The administration “refuses to tell me,” he said. “Infuriating.”
Ultimately, the senator’s pleas were not enough to stop the mother and son from making their way to Honduran soil, a fate Casey called “a potential death sentence.”
A spokeswoman with the Department of Homeland Security on Thursday morning confirmed to The Washington Post that the woman had arrived in Honduras.
“The gang who threatened the life of this child and mother won’t waste time in seeking to mete out their revenge,” Casey said.
DHS confirmed that the woman was removed Wednesday “after having exhausted all legal remedies available to her,” according to a statement from a DHS spokeswoman provided to The Washington Post.
She sought and was afforded judicial review before the Executive Office for Immigration Review, the Board of Immigration Appeals, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, and the U.S. Supreme Court, which unanimously denied her petition for writ of certiorari, according to the DHS statement. With no legal basis upon which to remain in the United States, she was “removed without incident pursuant to the lawfully issued removal order.”
ICE officials have been in direct contact with Casey’s office about this case providing information as it became available, according to the statement.
“It’s unfortunate that politicians are repeating misleading information and in the process, demonizing the men and women whose job it is to enforce the laws Congress writes,” Liz Johnson, the assistant director of public affairs at ICE, said in a statement to the NBC affiliate in Philadelphia.
Bridget Cambria, a lawyer on the case, told The Post the flight was scheduled to touch down in Honduras on Wednesday afternoon. The legal team had began the process of applying for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status — a program designed to help immigrant children who have been abused, abandoned or neglected — for the boy earlier this week by filing a complaint in juvenile court, Cambria said.
The woman was in one of several families from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras who fled what they describe as dangerous living conditions and have been detained at the high-profile Berks Family Residential Facility, one of only three detention centers in the country for undocumented immigrant families. (The other two are in Texas). Some families have spent more than a year and a half in custody in the center, a low-security lockup in Leesport, 75 miles northwest of Philadelphia.
In the past two years, Berks has been at the center of a number of disputes and lawsuits, and activists have repeatedly pressed to have it shut down, describing it as a prison where families and children are unjustly confined. Rights groups have previously filed complaints of poor medical services, intrusive security and other concerns. But federal officials have described it as a protective environment and a showcase of U.S. determination to deter illegal border crossings.
Ultimately, the state revoked the facility’s license last year on a technicality, finding that it had been originally built to house children but not adults, The Washington Post’s Pamela Constable reported. Berks County officials have challenged that decision, asking the court to weigh in and keep the center open in the meantime. On April 20, an administrative law judge overturned the license revocation, calling it “arbitrary … capricious unsupportable on any rational basis,” according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Dozens of women, some in custody for more than a year and a half, sued DHS to apply for asylum. They appealed their suit to the Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case last month. The families’ prolonged detention in Berks has spurred protests by local and international advocacy groups, and a hunger strike by the women last summer.
“When they remove someone with no notice, in such a quick way,” Cambria said, “I don’t know if she was able to tell her family.”
Although Casey’s public outcry was not sufficient to halt her removal, Cambria called his efforts “heroic.”
“It was finally somebody listening to these families who are in danger of being deported,” Cambria said.
On Tuesday, Casey sent a letter to Kelly, calling for the release of four mothers and children in the facility, saying they had “fled unspeakable violence in their home countries.”
Casey signed the letter, along with 13 members of the House of Representatives and nine other senators, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) He told the story of 7-year-old Antonio and his mother Marlene, who says she is a survivor of sexual harassment and assault from gang leaders, and fled El Salvador with Antonio following threats to harm her and kidnap her son. Another teenager in the facility, Michael, was only 14 years old when he and his mother, Maribel, fled El Salvador because they received death threats from MS-13 for defying gang recruitment, Casey said.
Casey also sent a letter to Trump directly on Wednesday, along with a photo of the 5-year-old boy reportedly deported with his mother.
“We are better than this,” Casey said in his letter to the president. “You have the power to help this child return to safety and to help the other families in a similar situation currently detained at the Berks County Residential Center.”
At 8 p.m. Wednesday, Casey was still tweeting.
“Shame on” the Trump administration, he said, for “turning their back on this child and his mother.”
Editor’s Note: The Washington Post has removed the woman’s name from this story following her lawyer’s assertion that she would be in danger in Honduras if her name were known.