Fernando Ochoa and his father, Ubaldo Ochoa Lopez, fled Guatemala over two years ago to seek asylum in the United States.

Febrero 05, 2021

On Wednesday, nine-year-old Fernando Ochoa gave his attorney a letter he wrote to President Biden, asking him in Spanish "from my heart that you let my dad go free." Fernando and his father, Ubaldo Ochoa Lopez, fled Guatemala over two years ago to seek asylum in the United States and were separated by immigration authorities; Fernando was six at the time. He was one of at least 2,800 migrant children separated from their parents in 2018 as part of former President Donald Trump's zero-tolerance policy. Two months later, Fernando and his father were reunited.

"During the first 35 days of those two months, Ubaldo couldn't even contact Fernando," their attorney, Andani Alcantara, said in a news conference. "So those 35 days of zero contact, not knowing what was going on, were very traumatic for both of them."

The father-and-son duo were separated again when Immigration and Customs Enforcement detained Ochoa Lopez after he was convicted of driving while intoxicated, Alcantara said. "It was only a Class B misdemeanor, but ICE has treated it as a huge crime, and it has decided that it is enough reason not to allow Ubaldo to be with his child, who doesn't have another parent in the U.S.," she said.

Ochoa Lopez has been in the Pearsall Detention Center in Texas for four months. In his letter, Fernando wrote to Biden: "I feel very sad for my dad who is not with me. During Christmas, I was sad for my dad who was not with me. It makes me very sad to see other parents playing with their children because I can't play with my dad nor receive a hug from my dad."

The Texas immigrant rights advocacy group RAICES has been helping Fernando with his asylum case while urging ICE to reunite him with his father. Alcantara said she has completed multiple requests for Ochoa Lopez's release, most recently on Monday after the Biden administration announced new policies on immigration enforcement. Alcantara said she hopes these new policies help Lopez's case since ICE is supposed to prioritize aggravated felons.

"The reality is that ICE always has the discretion to let anybody out of detention, and they are choosing not to," she said. "That's harming his child, who's nine years old and cries on the phone with Ubaldo because he hasn't seen his dad in so long."

If his father is sent back to Guatemala, this will be the third time that he has been separated from Fernando. "If Ubaldo is sent back to Guatemala, Fernando is left here without any parent, which is harmful enough in itself," Alcantara said. "But given his history of prior forceful separations by the government, it would be really harmful for him."