ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Migrant families arriving at the Southwest border earlier this year faced forced separations. Now President Trump has launched a new battle plan to stop immigrants from crossing the border with active-duty troops, razor wire, tighter asylum rules and threats of tent jails. NPR's John Burnett brings us the story of one mother who was finally reunited with her son and a warning she has for the caravan headed to the border.
JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Late last month, the Honduran mother named Luz flew from Texas to New York and swept her 15-year-old Luis into her arms. They'd been held apart for five months. She talked about the reunion at a diner near the apartment where they're staying in Long Island.
LUZ: (Through interpreter) So many emotions, like I was dreaming - I was finally with my child after being separated from him for five months. It was an immense happiness. We hugged. We kissed. I told him how much I loved him and that we would never be apart again.
BURNETT: One by one, the government continues to release immigrant children. Out of nearly 2,500 kids originally held, about 170 remain in shelters across the country awaiting discharge. Lee Gelernt is an ACLU lawyer who sued the government to force them to reunify the split-up families.
LEE GELERNT: This has been a difficult, long process. We filed this case in the beginning of March. We are now sitting here close to Thanksgiving, and we still haven't reunified all the children.
BURNETT: These last cases are the hardest. The parents are stuck in U.S. jails, or they've been deported, or they're deemed unsafe to regain custody of their kids. In Luz's case, she had medical complications. She was in an immigrant jail in South Texas when stitches from an earlier C-section ripped open. She was in excruciating pain. On top of that, she'd failed an asylum interview and was set for deportation.
But then her luck changed. She found a pro bono attorney. She had a new operation and recovered. They released her on bond, and now she's back with Luis awaiting their day in immigration court. Her Houston attorney Ruby powers cautions that Luz's claim for asylum - she says her husband abused her - will be a hard case to make.
RUBY POWERS: So it's going to be uphill battle. Like, we've - she's overcome so much in the last five months, but she's still - it's - she's not out of the woods yet. She still has to pursue her asylum case.
BURNETT: As these final cases drag on, some children have been in shelters for nearly half a year. It takes a toll. Luz says when border agents took her son away, they never explained to him what was going on, so he internalized his grief.
LUZ: (Through interpreter) He said he was angry at me because he thought I had abandoned him. He thought it was a punishment from God because he was a bad son and that's why they separated him. It has traumatized him.
BURNETT: Alarmed by the ceaseless waves of Central Americans headed to the border, the administration is considering building detention camps with tents because there's not enough room in family detention centers. The administration has also warned it might resume family separations. And recently, Trump clamped down on who gets to request asylum. Based on her experience, Luz has some advice for parents who brought their children with them in the Honduran caravan making its way up through Mexico.
LUZ: (Through interpreter) It's horrible. I'm advising the mothers, if you don't want to have your children taken from you, don't come here. Figure something else out.
BURNETT: It's a warning the Trump administration hopes the immigrants will heed. But as migrants with the caravan have now begun arriving at the Tijuana border crossing, it seems few, if any, will turn back. John Burnett, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.