MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Now we're going to hear about some of the families that have been reunited. These families will be allowed to remain in the United States and pursue asylum claims - a process that can take years. In the meantime, they will stay with family members across the United States. Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest welcomed 370 of these parents and children last week and gave them temporary shelter. Regional Director Caren Barrientos says ICE dropped the families off shortly after they were reunited.
CAREN BARRIENTOS: The parents are - their spirits are very low. They're kind of with a dazed look. They're - have a frightened, scared face. The children are clinging to their parents, and they also look scared. They're coming with no shoelaces on. They have ankle bracelets - the parents do - and they really don't know why they have those on, so we're kind of explaining that. They're coming with just a blank stare of, what's next? Are you going to take my child? What do you want?
And so we go through a process like a welcome and who we are. We explain that we're Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest. We are not a government agency. We're here to help you and your child get to your final destination. We've gotten kids where they're kind of sick, like a nervous sick - upset stomach, some of them had fever. A lot of the kids are coming with head lice.
MARTIN: When you tell the families that you're there to help them, do they believe you? Because we're hearing reports that parents have been told false things, and so I was wondering if they believe you when you tell them, we're here to help.
BARRIENTOS: No, they don't. When they first come in, they're walking in the door, and they're just looking like, OK. What's going to happen next? When we invite them in, we have a welcoming area. So the parents are sitting down. We're asking them if they want food. We're feeding them. We're talking to them. So they're decompressing. We're letting them call their families, and the families are crying, the parent is crying, the child is crying because they're hearing their loved ones for the first time in a long time, and they know they're safe.
Then we're helping scheduling their flights out, helping them connect with their family, getting them onto their final destination. So a lot of families have been on their final destination and arrived at their families have been calling us and saying, thank you so much. You guys are - have been truthful. We're so grateful that you didn't take my child for me.
MARTIN: Well, have the parents told you why they made these trips to begin with? Have you heard any of their stories?
BARRIENTOS: So there was one story that a father shared. He's an older gentleman, and this was his youngest daughter, and his other children were grown. And the families are being threatened that if he didn't give money, that they were going to take his daughter and sell her. He was saying that the drug cartel - and he's from Guatemala - and he came to get his daughter safe. And then he felt bad, like maybe he made a mistake, that maybe we put him in a - he brought his daughter to a worse situation because he didn't know where she was going. He wasn't told. But he was leaving the area that he was in because they were trying to already kidnap his daughter and sell her.
MARTIN: Before we let you go, how would you describe your role in this? And what would you want people to know about what you're seeing and what you're doing right now?
BARRIENTOS: I run a foster care program here at Lutheran Social Services. When a child's in care, there's a process system. Children are explained that the children are removed because of the abuse or neglect. The kids are scared in a different way. It's like no trust - there's no trust. And we're here to make them feel as comfortable as we can and let them know we're here to help you. We want you to be with your loved one. We're not here to take your child from you.
It's hard to see these looks on these kids' faces and these parents' faces. It's almost like the loss of hope. And, if you lose hope, that is, like, well, what else do you have left? So we're trying to give them that little piece of hope. There is people that care. There is people out here that want you to have a better life.
MARTIN: That's Caren Barrientos of Lutheran Social Services Southwest in Phoenix, Ariz. We spoke with her via Skype.
Caren Barrientos, thanks so much for sharing with us.
BARRIENTOS: Thank you.
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