Though zero tolerance policy on hold, lasting effects of child separation: Part 1

At the southern border, parents who were deported without their children are trying to reenter the U.S. to reunite their families. Lawyers help them locate their kids and navigate the complex system.
10:08 | 04/18/19

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Transcript for Though zero tolerance policy on hold, lasting effects of child separation: Part 1
forced separation. ��� ��� Reporter: For nine months, their phone has been the only bridge between this family and their son. When 6 year old erielle and his father crossed the border last June they were detained by authorities and then separated. Translator: No, I'm not giving him away. You'll have to kill me first. They turned me around and put my back against the wall. And they put him in a room. And when I turned around, my son was no longer there. Reporter: This family, one of thousands caught in the cross hairs of the trump administration's zero tolerance policy, a controversial tactic that continues to divide the nation. If they feel there will be separation, they don't come. You let kids be separated without tracking them. Do you know how outrageous that is? Reporter: The policy on hold for now. The full impact unknown. Countless families still broken. Now Jesus is on a journey to try to get his son back, joined by 28 other parents who were not only separated but deported, their children left behind. These parents have been incredibly traumatized by the separation of their children. Reporter: They are risking their freedom again, hoping to make their families whole and gain refuge in the U.S. With the help of immigration attorneys like Erica. I don't know that I would have the courage to do it. The U.S. Asylum system is designed to deter asylum seekers, designed to break the will of people who want to seek safety in the United States. Translator: On may 16, 2018, I made the decision to travel to the United States with my son. Reporter: They left Honduras after threats were made against their lives, a threat made real when gang members killed his brother-in-law. But by the time he reached the border, the United States announced a new crackdown on migrants. Some say it was designed to be a deterrent. If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you, and that child may be separated by you as required by law. Reporter: Jesus who asked us to use only his first name says nothing mattered once his son was taken. Translator: I said tell me please what is going on with my son. Where do you have him? I know my son is not okay because he misses me. Reporter: The distraught father says he was given a document in English to sign that he thought was his first step towards asylum, but instead, he says it was his deportation order. Translator: When they told me I'd be returning to my home country and my son would stay here, at that moment I cried and cried and cried. Reporter: Though he felt tricked, Jesus says he was willing to leave the country, but not without his child. Translator: I told them it was fine if they didn't want to give me asylum but to give me back my son since I was leaving, and they said, well, sir, no one steals children here. Your son is doing well, and we'll give him back to you at the airport. Reporter: But when he arrived at the airport, no sign of his little boy. They kept lying to him and telling him he would be reunited in a few days or his son would be on the plane when he went back do Honduras. He's not the only father they had to forcibly put on the plane to be deported without his child. Reporter: Meanwhile, the human reaction. What have you been given? My decision is that anyone who breaks the law will be prosecuted. Reporter: Then, this recording obtained by pro publica from inside a detention center. Outrage was swift. Child internment camps, that's what I said. We're signing an executive order, about keeping families together. Reporter: Just two days later, the controversial policy coming to an end. But the government had not tracked which parents and children belonged together. Leaving the task largely to ngos, like "On the other side". We bring them back, identify where the children are and put being everything in place for them to be reunified they still put all these roadblocks in our way. Reporter: Elmer received death threats for his work as a policeman investigating a murder back home in Honduras, but it was after his 15-year-old daughter Marisol started receiving threats too that he decided to make the treacherous journey north. Translator: When we arrived at immigration, they sent us to the so-called I.C.E. Boxes. And that is, I'm not going to explain. I cannot find the ways to express what we witnessed there. She was shivering and telling me, daddy, I can't take it anymore. And she spent all night shivering with a fever, and they said look, we're going to take your daughter so she can get changed, and I never saw her again. Translator: And I, with my tears, waited to see when he would come. And that's how the days passed. He didn't show up. Reporter: Marisol, who asked us not to show her face was held in a detention center for migrant youth in Florida, for since six months. They assign you a number, they almost never call you by your name, they call you by your number, because why do you think they call it the kennel? I mean it's cages like a kennel. And young girls who are 5 years old, 6 years old, 9 years old. And they cried and the policeman who watched them said "Shut up, you crying girls, I have a headache. I don't want to hear you." Reporter: Eventually relatives in Wisconsin were able to take her in. Translator: Everything happens I said to her. Someday we will be together. What I've seen in a lot of these cases, the kids hold a lot of resentment toward their parents, because even if they understand intellectually that their parent did not abandon them, emotionally they can't process that. Reporter: 6-year-old erielle was spending six months in a shelter before relatives wearing ai able to take him. What was he like? He was sad and didn't remember stuff. Reporter: His cousin Elvis helps tell his story. As he's spent more time here, he's been more active and thinking a lot better, but I'm very happy that he's communicate being better since he knows that his parents are coming very soon, hopefully. Reporter: Nearly a year after their unwilling farewells, Jesus, Elmer and other parents are once again steps from the U.S. Border. My biggest worry is that some of the families that were traveling together will be separated. It's really I.c.e.'s decision. Reporter: Erica and a small army of volunteers ready the families for the crossing, armed with petitions to get their children back. What's the best-case scenario? That they let them through, that they let them out the other side. We're just going to walk over and I'm going to go up to the front and tell them either we're there and take it from there. Reporter: Together, the families approach the calexico port of entry. I'm scared, too. This is stressful, you know, and I don't know what's going to happen. I kept telling the parents, you have to prepare for the worst. Reporter: Immediately, they run into the first roadblock. They're saying that they don't have a pass in their process. He's 52. We know they have the ability to process these families and release them immediately from the port of entry, they just, they don't want to. Reporter: Ten hours of negotiations later, success. The doors open. Reporter: One step closer to their children, but stepping foot into a world with no guarantees. It's random, you know. There'll be two families with the two facts. One can get paroled out, another could get separated. It's really the luck of the draw. Reporter: When we come back, a rare look inside an immigration detention center, and a boy still waiting for his will these families be reunited?

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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