Guatemalan Family Reunited In Arizona, Headed For Kentucky

By Matthew Casey
Published: Wednesday, July 25, 2018 - 10:57am
Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2018 - 11:16am

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Phoenix Financial Center
Phoenix Financial Center at the corner of Central Avenue and Osborn Road in Phoenix.

The Phoenix Financial Center, located at the corner of Central Avenue and Osborn Road, has been ranked as one the Valley's iconic landmarks by Phoenix New Times.

In the early 2000s, the cluster of structures was the setting for a comedy science fiction movie, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Now Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest has one of the buildings set up to help hundreds of migrant families get reacquainted.

“Yesterday, they gave me back my boy,” Noel Cucul-Pop said in Spanish, as he sat next to the 8-year-old in an office.

Father and son fled Guatemala after getting beaten by a group of men sent by the owner of where they lived, Cucul-Pop said.

“They told me if I talk to the police, then they will kill me,” he said. 

Instead, they were caught by federal authorities after illegally crossing the border near Yuma. Cucul-Pop jumped the 14-foot high fence and broke his left arm. The father and son missed each other’s birthdays while separated for more than two months.

“I felt happy and joyful to see my boy again,” he said.

“I felt happy and joyful to see my boy again.”
— Noel Cucul-Pop

Cucul-Pop can’t fully express himself in Spanish because his first language is an indigenous dialect. So is his boy’s. The child's voice was barely audible when he answered questions during a 30-minute interview about their experience.

The separation of migrant families has dominated headlines all summer. Thursday is the court-ordered deadline for the Trump administration to finish reuniting them, or it could face penalties from a federal judge. 

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions planted the seed for family separations in April, when he announced a "zero tolerance policy" for illegal border crossers. He defended it during a trip to Scottsdale in May.

“If you don’t want your child to be separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally,” Sessions said. “It’s not our fault that somebody does that.”

In June, President Donald Trump reversed course and stopped family separations with an executive order.

“So we’re going to have strong, very strong borders,” Trump said. “But we’re going to keep the families together. I didn’t like the sight or the feeling of families being separated.”

Less than a week later, a federal judge in San Diego gave the government 30 days to reunite migrant families.

After staff with Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest welcomes newly reunified families to the office at the Phoenix Financial Center, they give them food, let them call relatives and teach those with ankle monitors how to charge them.

“I said to my boy, 'Forgive me for bringing you here.'”
— Noel Cucul-Pop

“We’re letting them decompress,” said Caren Barrientos, regional director. “We’re letting them bond with their children."

Barrientos is part of the team that put together a plan on-the-fly to receive newly reunited families. The one’s she seen, have been traumatized.

“When we’re walking them to restrooms to say, 'Go clean up, wash,' and everything else, that child is clinging to that parent because they think that we’re going to remove them as soon as that parent walks away,” Barrientos said.

Before they were separated in detention, Cucul-Pop said he told his son that the boy did nothing wrong.

“I said to my boy, 'Forgive me for bringing you here,'” he said.

Cucul-Pop hopes to eventually win asylum. In the meantime, he and his son will take their first ever plane ride to Kentucky. They’re going to live with Cucul-Pop’s brother, who he hasn’t seen in about 15 years.  

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