'Our lost son': Migrant boy still separated from parents

Byron Xol, an immigrant from Guatemala, plays with a balloon before his birthday party Sunday, June 23, 2019, in Buda, Texas. Byron, now staying with

Byron Xol, an immigrant from Guatemala, plays with a balloon before his birthday party Sunday, June 23, 2019, in Buda, Texas. Byron, now staying with

Holly Sewell carries Byron Xol, an immigrant from Guatemala, during his birthday party Sunday, June 23, 2019, in Buda, Texas. “I say, `Do you need a h

Holly Sewell carries Byron Xol, an immigrant from Guatemala, during his birthday party Sunday, June 23, 2019, in Buda, Texas. “I say, `Do you need a h

This Monday, June 24, 2019 photo shows the entrance to the Buda, Texas home of Holly and Matthew Sewell who are hosting Byron Xol, a child immigrant f

This Monday, June 24, 2019 photo shows the entrance to the Buda, Texas home of Holly and Matthew Sewell who are hosting Byron Xol, a child immigrant f

Byron Xol, left, an immigrant from Guatemala, plays with a bubble gun as he sits outside with Desmond Sewell Monday, June 24, 2019, in Buda, Texas. Af

Byron Xol, left, an immigrant from Guatemala, plays with a bubble gun as he sits outside with Desmond Sewell Monday, June 24, 2019, in Buda, Texas. Af

Byron Xol, an immigrant from Guatemala, lies on the floor in a makeshift disco ball room during his birthday party Sunday, June 23, 2019, in Buda, Tex

Byron Xol, an immigrant from Guatemala, lies on the floor in a makeshift disco ball room during his birthday party Sunday, June 23, 2019, in Buda, Tex

Drawings and photos of his parents and two brothers hang next to the bed of 9-year-old Byron Xol, an immigrant from Guatemala, Monday, June 24, 2019,

Drawings and photos of his parents and two brothers hang next to the bed of 9-year-old Byron Xol, an immigrant from Guatemala, Monday, June 24, 2019,

Holly Sewell helps Byron Xol, 9, an immigrant from Guatemala, talk to his family by phone Monday, June 24, 2019, in Buda, Texas. Fourteen months earli

Holly Sewell helps Byron Xol, 9, an immigrant from Guatemala, talk to his family by phone Monday, June 24, 2019, in Buda, Texas. Fourteen months earli

Byron Xol, an immigrant from Guatemala, poses for a photograph Monday, June 24, 2019, in Buda, Texas. A federal judge could soon decide whether to let

Byron Xol, an immigrant from Guatemala, poses for a photograph Monday, June 24, 2019, in Buda, Texas. A federal judge could soon decide whether to let

Byron Xol, an immigrant from Guatemala, squeezes a water balloon during his birthday party Sunday, June 23, 2019, in Buda, Texas. “Super good!” the 9-

Byron Xol, an immigrant from Guatemala, squeezes a water balloon during his birthday party Sunday, June 23, 2019, in Buda, Texas. “Super good!” the 9-

Byron Xol, 9, left, an immigrant from Guatemala, and Windy Sewell, right, watch her brother, Desmond Sewell, play an electronic game Monday, June 24,

Byron Xol, 9, left, an immigrant from Guatemala, and Windy Sewell, right, watch her brother, Desmond Sewell, play an electronic game Monday, June 24,

Byron Xol, an immigrant from Guatemala, talks to his family back in Guatemala by phone Monday, June 24, 2019, at the home of Matthew and Holly Sewell

Byron Xol, an immigrant from Guatemala, talks to his family back in Guatemala by phone Monday, June 24, 2019, at the home of Matthew and Holly Sewell

Florinda Xol, and her son, Alan, 3, stand at the door of their one-bedroom home in San Miguel El Limon, 475 kilometers (295 miles) away from Guatemala

Florinda Xol, and her son, Alan, 3, stand at the door of their one-bedroom home in San Miguel El Limon, 475 kilometers (295 miles) away from Guatemala

David Xol sits in his one-bedroom home in San Miguel El Limon, 475 kilometers (295 miles) away from Guatemala City, on Sunday, June, 23, 2019. The ACL

David Xol sits in his one-bedroom home in San Miguel El Limon, 475 kilometers (295 miles) away from Guatemala City, on Sunday, June, 23, 2019. The ACL

David Xol sits in his one-bedroom home in San Miguel El Limon, 475 kilometers (295 miles) away from Guatemala City, on Sunday, June, 23, 2019. Fourtee

David Xol sits in his one-bedroom home in San Miguel El Limon, 475 kilometers (295 miles) away from Guatemala City, on Sunday, June, 23, 2019. Fourtee

Family photos of David Xol hang on a wall in his one-bedroom home in San Miguel El Limon, 475 kilometers (295 miles) away from Guatemala City, Sunday,

Family photos of David Xol hang on a wall in his one-bedroom home in San Miguel El Limon, 475 kilometers (295 miles) away from Guatemala City, Sunday,

This Monday, June, 24, 2019 photo shows San Miguel El Limon, a small community beside the road Franja Transversal del Norte, 475 kilometers (295 miles

This Monday, June, 24, 2019 photo shows San Miguel El Limon, a small community beside the road Franja Transversal del Norte, 475 kilometers (295 miles

Women bathe and clean clothes in the river Limon, on Monday, June, 24, 2019, where David Xol often bathes and fishes, about 475 kilometers (295 miles)

Women bathe and clean clothes in the river Limon, on Monday, June, 24, 2019, where David Xol often bathes and fishes, about 475 kilometers (295 miles)

Florinda Xol , sits with one of her sons, Alan, 3, in their one-bedroom home in San Miguel El Limon, 475 kilometers (295 miles) away from Guatemala Ci

Florinda Xol , sits with one of her sons, Alan, 3, in their one-bedroom home in San Miguel El Limon, 475 kilometers (295 miles) away from Guatemala Ci

In this Sunday, June 23, 2019 photo, Cesar Xol, 7 years-old, plays on the house of his father David Xol in San Miguel El Limon, 475 kilometers (295 mi

In this Sunday, June 23, 2019 photo, Cesar Xol, 7 years-old, plays on the house of his father David Xol in San Miguel El Limon, 475 kilometers (295 mi

David Xol lies in a hammock in his one-bedroom home in San Miguel El Limon, 475 kilometers (295 miles) away from Guatemala City, Sunday, June, 23, 201

David Xol lies in a hammock in his one-bedroom home in San Miguel El Limon, 475 kilometers (295 miles) away from Guatemala City, Sunday, June, 23, 201

David Xol, talks with his son, Byron, over a video call from his home in San Miguel El Limon, 475 kilometers (295 miles) away from Guatemala City, Sun

David Xol, talks with his son, Byron, over a video call from his home in San Miguel El Limon, 475 kilometers (295 miles) away from Guatemala City, Sun

BUDA, Texas (AP) — Fourteen months ago, Byron Xol was packed in a wooden crate by smugglers and shipped from Guatemala to the U.S., only to be grabbed immediately by border agents and ripped away from his father.

His dad was deported. Byron remained, locked away with the thousands of children separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border by the Trump administration. More than a year after the practice ended, a small number of children like Byron remain in limbo, far from their families.

Byron spent his ninth birthday in central Texas, with a host family devoted to giving him a loving home. His parents, meanwhile, passed the day a thousand miles away, in the gang-ridden forests Byron and his father, David, had tried to escape. They have not seen their child in more than a year.

But they have hope. A federal judge could soon decide whether to let the father return to the U.S. If he rejects the motion, Byron may be sent home to Guatemala.

Byron's first language was Q'eqchi, one of several dialects that trace back to Mayan times. He was raised in San Miguel el Limón, a tiny and remote rural town. David, 27, worked a series of jobs as a laborer and construction worker. He and his 23-year-old wife, Florinda, slept in one bed in their two-room, cinderblock-and-wood house; Byron and his two younger brothers slept in another.

They went to church almost every day. David says he preached the word of God, as his father did. His preaching caught the notice of gangsters who tried to recruit him; when he refused, because his faith forbids violence, they threatened him and his eldest son, he says.

On May 4, 2018, David and Byron left San Miguel to seek asylum in the United States. David borrowed to hire a human smuggler, or "coyote," for about $6,000.

They were smuggled through Mexico by truck. For part of the 14-day journey, they rode in a wooden crate. At the Rio Grande, the coyote sent them and about 20 other migrants across the river in the middle of the night.

The Border Patrol was waiting.

David was charged with illegal entry on May 19, the day after they were detained.

Two days later, an officer presented him with a document he couldn't read. If he signed it, the officer said, he could be deported with Byron. David refused.

He says a second officer told him that if he tried to seek asylum, the two would be separated. David would be detained for at least two years, while Byron would be given up for adoption. Their only option was to sign the document and be deported together.

He signed, renouncing his asylum claim. He didn't know the document would allow the agents to take his son away.

Seven days later, he was deported.

David, meanwhile, found work chopping trees at a palm oil plant an hour's drive from San Miguel. The debt he had undertaken to pay the coyote has grown from $6,000 to $8,000. His monthly salary at the palm oil plant is about $400. His payments on the debt take up almost all of that. To pay for food, he worked extra hours.

Alerted to the Xols' case by news coverage, Ricardo de Anda, a human rights lawyer working with the American Civil Liberties Union, went to Guatemala to discuss an idea: David should petition to return to the United States, while Byron remained there. David agreed.

Byron had been sent to an old elementary school just outside Houston that had been converted to house 160 children. Operated by the nonprofit Baptist Child and Family Services, the facility had beds, common areas, classes, phones to call family and lawyers, and three meals a day. It was the first of four facilities where he would live over the next year.

De Anda wanted to get Byron out of the system, and into a real home. Through other lawyers, he found a Matthew and Holly Sewell, who live in a spacious, five-bedroom house near Austin, Texas, with their two kids.

Watching the news last summer, the Sewells heard that children were being detained after their parents had been deported. And they thought: Why not provide a real home for at least one child?

Though David and Florinda approved, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services refused several requests from the Sewells to sponsor Byron because they weren't related to him and had no prior relationship with his family.

De Anda sued HHS in February. In April, a federal judge ordered HHS to consider the Sewells as sponsors.

The Sewells got the call: Byron was being flown to Austin, and they needed to bring a wheelchair. A few weeks earlier, they had been told, Byron had broken his right leg playing soccer.

Holly Sewell requested medical records from the facility that she shared with The Associated Press. They show that Byron's thigh fracture was misdiagnosed at one point as a broken ankle. Several days passed after the injury before Byron placed in a full cast. And the break was on Byron's growth plate, the soft area in his leg that had not yet hardened to bone. If not treated properly, the break could stunt his growth.

The Sewells took him to a doctor specializing in pediatric foot injuries, and enrolled him in physical therapy.

As he recovered, the Sewells started to see more of his personality — his wide smile, his sense of humor — and his ability to adapt.

For 11 months in government facilities, the staff watching Byron wasn't allowed to hug him. At his birthday party, he ran up to Holly several times for an embrace or to ride on her back.

"I say, 'Do you need a hug,' and the answer is always yes," Holly said.

David is one of 21 parents included in the American Civil Liberties Union's motion that they be allowed to re-enter the country and seek asylum.

The ACLU argues that David and the others were denied a fair chance to request asylum. The government says if David and other parents want to be with their children, the government says, they should agree to have those children returned to them. The case is scheduled to be heard Friday.

If the ACLU wins, David could be in the U.S. in a matter of weeks. He could eventually petition for the admission of Florinda and their other two children.

If it loses, Byron will most likely return to Guatemala.

___

Sonny Figueroa reported from San Miguel de Limón.