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Two immigrant kids separated from parents arrive in Minnesota

ST. PAUL—Two immigrant children have arrived in Minnesota, a few of the estimated 2,300 separated from their parents after crossing the Mexican border.

Two refugee-advocacy groups reported on Monday that 7-year-old girl and an 8-year-old boy arrived from Guatemala roughly two months ago.

They were separated from their parents after President Trump signed an executive order in April establishing a "zero tolerance" policy for illegal immigrants. Trump signed a new order June 20 ending the separation process, but not before a surge of parents entered the court system and were separated from their children.

The Minneapolis-based Advocates for Human Rights and the International Institute of Minnesota are involved in the cases of the two children in Minnesota. Officials would not reveal the names of the children, their relationship, or any details about their circumstances, citing a need for privacy.

More unaccompanied children are expected to enter the state, but it's unclear when and how they might be reunited with their parents. Institute director Jane Graupman guesses that "maybe in the dozens" more children will eventually arrive.

The Advocates group interviewed both children.

Sarah Brenes, the group's Director of the Refugee and Immigrant Program, would not give details about where the children were living. Normally, she said, children are transported to states in which they have relatives who agree to take them in.

The group offers legal representation to immigrant children.

In the roughly 30-year history of the group, it has handled more than 100 cases involving unaccompanied minors or children separated from parents. "I think of it as upholding the commitments that the U.S. has made through international and domestic laws," said Brenes.

"The children just want a safe place to live and be children."

She has sympathy for the immigrants. "A lot of families have made the difficult decision that they are no longer safe in their country," she said. "To tear them apart when they get to the place where they sought refuge seems to be counter to our country's values."

She said the "get-tough" policy has not deterred immigration. "This country continues to send this unwelcoming message, yet people keep coming," said Brenes.

Graupman said her group has never seen cases where children were deliberately separated from parents by American officials.

The "zero tolerance" policy has meant that when parents are taken to jail, their children are taken to temporary shelters. If the children can name a relative in the U.S., then that person is called. If the relative agrees to take the children, then the children are transported to them.

The parents, said Graupman, only come to America if their lives are in danger.

"They are not coming to the U.S. just to come here. Gangs have threatened to kill the kids or the parents. This is absolutely a last resort. These people are desperate."