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9-year-old boy begs President Biden to stop his father's deportation: 'Let my dad go free'

Ubaldo Ochoa Lopez and his son fled Guatemala to seek asylum in the United States but were separated at the border.

9-year-old boy begs President Biden to stop his father's deportation: 'Let my dad go free'
Image courtesy: Raices

Fernando Ochoa is just 9 years old but the burden of fighting to keep his father from being deported to Guatemala has fallen on his small shoulders. He has already been separated from his father, Ubaldo Ochoa Lopez, twice before and is fearful of losing him a third time. Despite Joe Biden having ordered a 100-day moratorium on deportations and created a family reunification task force within days of him taking office, many continue to be deported. Fernando Ochoa is now directly appealing to the President to help his father stay in America with him, reported NBC News. He handed over a letter written in Spanish addressing Joe Biden, to their attorney outside an immigration court. In the letter, he asks, Biden "from my heart that you let my dad go free." The 9-year-old said the holiday season was extra painful after being separated from his father. "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," wrote Fernando in his letter to Biden. 


Fernando and his father, Ubaldo Ochoa Lopez, sought asylum in America after fleeing Guatemala over two years ago. Fernando was 6 years old at the time. He was one of at least 2,800 migrant children who were separated from their parents in 2018 as part of President Donald Trump's "zero tolerance" policy, implemented to deter migrants from seeking asylum. "During the first 35 days of those two months, Ubaldo couldn't even contact Fernando. So those 35 days of zero contact, not knowing what was going on, were very traumatic for both of them," said their attorney Andani Alcantara. Two months after being separated, Fernando was reunited with his father. 



Ochoa Lopez and his son made legal efforts to get asylum in the US, but Ochoa Lopez was convicted of driving while intoxicated. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) treated it as a big crime and used it as an excuse to separate Fernando from him yet again. "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.," said Andani Alcantara. Ochoa Lopez has been kept at the Pearsall Detention Center in Texas for four months.



Andiola argues that Ochoa Lopez "went through the criminal justice system" for drunken driving. He was charged and convicted and hence should be united with his son. "If it was someone else, someone who was born in this country, if he was another person, perhaps he would be back with his son, but he's not. He's being punished twice for something that already happened — even after what we, as a country, did to take away his child," Andiola said. The Texas immigrant rights advocacy group, RAICES, is helping Fernando with his asylum case.



Ochoa Lopez's attorney said multiple requests had been made to ICE regarding his release, especially considering the new change in administration. The new policy change states that the public safety guidelines say to prioritize those "who have been convicted of an 'aggravated felony.'" Ochoa Lopez doesn't fall under that category but still hasn't been released and lives in fear of being deported, leaving his son alone. "The reality is that ICE always has the discretion to let anybody out of detention, and they are choosing not to," said Andiola. "They're choosing to keep a parent and child separated that they had already separated before and traumatized."


Despite the 100-day moratorium on deportations, the executive order was suspended by a federal judge in response to a Texas lawsuit. More than 250 people have been deported to Guatemala and Honduras recently. '"If Ubaldo is sent back to Guatemala, Fernando is left here without any parent, which is harmful enough in itself, but given his history of prior forceful separations by the government, it would be really harmful for him," said Alcantara, before adding that the 9-year-old would be left "to fight his asylum case on his own." 

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