'Where's my kid?' At Texas border, desperate parents turn to attorneys to find their children

LOS FRESNOS, Texas — Near the end of two-lane stretch of road leading to the Port Isabel Detention Center, attorney Sirine Sheboya is choking back emotion over the lengths mothers and fathers are going to be reunited with their children.

“We have people in there who are considering not continuing on with really strong asylum claims,” she said stopping to catch her breath as the emotion breaks through, “because they think that maybe they will get reunified with their kids faster if they give up their claim. That’s just wrong.”

As mothers and fathers wait in the secured, remote detention center amid the chaos of the Trump administration’s "zero-tolerance" policy that led to forced separations of children from their parents, attorneys like Sheboya and others have been thrust into doing the detective work of helping the parents learn the whereabouts of their children and giving parents hope that they will be reunited.

Sheboya, a civil rights attorney whose work often overlaps with immigration, said she didn’t think the immigration system was necessarily fair and just in the Obama years, but she had "never seen anything like this."

“The immigration system has been harsh and enforced in a manner that lacks compassion, but I’ve never seen a volume of people who are punitively separated from their children for no reason," she said.

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Migrants detained near US-Mexico border
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Migrants detained near US-Mexico border
MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: Central American asylum seekers wait as U.S. Border Patrol agents take them into custody on June 12, 2018 near McAllen, Texas. The families were then sent to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) processing center for possible separation. U.S. border authorities are executing the Trump administration's 'zero tolerance' policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: Central American asylum seekers wait as U.S. Border Patrol agents take them into custody on June 12, 2018 near McAllen, Texas. The families were then sent to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) processing center for possible separation. U.S. border authorities are executing the Trump administration's 'zero tolerance' policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: Central American asylum seekers are taken into custody by U.S. Border Patrol agents on June 12, 2018 near McAllen, Texas. The families were then sent to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) processing center for possible separation. U.S. border authorities are executing the Trump administration's 'zero tolerance' policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: A U.S. Border Patrol agent takes a group of Central American asylum seekers into custody on June 12, 2018 near McAllen, Texas. The immigrant families were then sent to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) processing center for possible separation. U.S. border authorities are executing the Trump administration's zero tolerance policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political-asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: A two-year-old Honduran asylum seeker cries as her mother is searched and detained near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12, 2018 in McAllen, Texas. The asylum seekers had rafted across the Rio Grande from Mexico and were detained by U.S. Border Patrol agents before being sent to a processing center for possible separation. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is executing the Trump administration's 'zero tolerance' policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: U.S. Border Patrol agents take Central American asylum seekers into custody on June 12, 2018 near McAllen, Texas. The immigrant families were then sent to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) processing center for possible separation. U.S. border authorities are executing the Trump administration's zero tolerance policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political-asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: A U.S. Border Patrol agent looks for groups of asylum seekers crossing the Rio Grande from Mexico on June 12, 2018 near McAllen, Texas. U.S. border authorities are executing the Trump administration's zero tolerance policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political-asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: U.S. Border Patrol agents take Central American asylum seekers into custody on June 12, 2018 near McAllen, Texas. The immigrant families were then sent to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) processing center for possible separation. U.S. border authorities are executing the Trump administration's zero tolerance policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political-asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: Central American asylum seekers wait as U.S. Border Patrol agents take groups of them into custody on June 12, 2018 near McAllen, Texas. The families were then sent to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) processing center for possible separation. U.S. border authorities are executing the Trump administration's zero tolerance policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political-asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: U.S. Border Patrol agents take a group of Central American asylum seekers into custody on June 12, 2018 near McAllen, Texas. The immigrant families were then sent to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) processing center for possible separation. U.S. border authorities are executing the Trump administration's zero tolerance policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political-asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: A Honduran mother holds her two-year-old as U.S. Border Patrol as agents review their papers near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12, 2018 in McAllen, Texas. The asylum seekers had rafted across the Rio Grande from Mexico and were detained by U.S. Border Patrol agents before being sent to a processing center for possible separation. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is executing the Trump administration's 'zero tolerance' policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: A two-year-old Honduran stands with her mother after being detained by U.S. Border Patrol agents near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12, 2018 in McAllen, Texas. The asylum seekers had rafted across the Rio Grande from Mexico and were detained before being sent to a Border Patrol processing center for possible separation. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is executing the Trump administration's 'zero tolerance' policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: A U.S. Border Patrol spotlight shines on a terrified mother and son from Honduras as they are found in the dark near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12, 2018 in McAllen, Texas. The asylum seekers had rafted across the Rio Grande from Mexico and had become lost in the woods. They were then detained by Border Patrol agents and then sent to a processing center for possible separation. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is executing the Trump administration's 'zero tolerance' policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: U.S. Border Patrol agents detain a group of Central American asylum seekers near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12, 2018 in McAllen, Texas. The group of women and children had rafted across the Rio Grande from Mexico and were detained before being sent to a processing center for possible separation. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is executing the Trump administration's 'zero tolerance' policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
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The Department of Homeland Security said late Saturday in a “fact sheet” that it has a well-coordinated process of reuniting families. But by Sunday, Trump was calling for all migrants to be deported without trial.

Attorneys have become a lifeline for migrants in detention, responding as would clergy to a disaster or tragedy, as the legal labyrinth of immigration has become more complicated.

Although many are accustomed to the immigration system’s complexities, attorneys are finding the situation created by the Trump "zero-tolerance" prosecutions full of never-before-seen hurdles and restrictions that hamper their access to children and parents and are making their work to ensure those with valid asylum and other claims get to stay more difficult.

Ali Rahnama, an immigration attorney from Washington, D.C. who works on public policy and high impact litigation, said he woke up last Monday and felt he needed to be on the border. He found a private donor to pay for him and a few colleagues to fly to the border.

Rahnama said he and other attorneys expected Immigration and Customs Enforcement would have access to a database that would have information on where each child is, but no such database seems to exist.

“They are asking us (and advocacy groups) to give them that information,” Rahnama said.

An immigrant from Iran, Rahnama said he came alone to the U.S. and it was not easy to immigrate here, but he said he feels fortunate he is not going through what parents are telling him has been their experience.

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Protests against family separations at US border
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Protests against family separations at US border
BOSTON, MA - JUNE 14: Demonstrators gather outside the Massachusetts State House in Boston to protest the Trump administration policy of separating children from their parents when they arrive at the U.S. border without authorization on June 14, 2018. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JUNE 14: Demonstrators gather outside the Massachusetts State House in Boston to protest the Trump administration policy of separating children from their parents when they arrive at the U.S. border without authorization on June 14, 2018. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: Young children alongside adults protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People shine cell phones and call 'you are not alone' to immigrant detainees inside the Metropolitan Detention Center during a protest of the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. The detainees responded by shines lights back and banging on their cells. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People shine cell phones and call 'you are not alone' to immigrant detainees inside the Metropolitan Detention Center during a protest of the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. The detainees responded by shines lights back and banging on their cells. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People call 'you are not alone' to immigrant detainees inside the Metropolitan Detention Center during a protest of the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. The detainees responded by shines lights back and banging on their cells. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
People participate in a protest against recent U.S. immigration policy of separating children from their families when they enter the United States as undocumented immigrants, in front of a Homeland Security facility in Elizabeth, NJ, U.S. June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
People participate in a protest against recent U.S. immigration policy of separating children from their families when they enter the United States as undocumented immigrants, in front of a Homeland Security facility in Elizabeth, NJ, U.S., June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
Sharon Chajon whose husband is a detained immigrant cries while people participate in a protest against recent U.S. immigration policy of separating children from their families when they enter the United States as undocumented immigrants, in front of a Homeland Security facility in Elizabeth, NJ, U.S., June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
New Jersey and New York Congressmen hold a news conference during a protest against recent U.S. immigration policy of separating children from their families when they enter the United States as undocumented immigrants, in front of a Homeland Security facility in Elizabeth, NJ, U.S., June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
People participate in a protest against recent U.S. immigration policy of separating children from their families when they enter the United States as undocumented immigrants, in front of a Homeland Security facility in Elizabeth, NJ, U.S. June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) speaks during a protest against recent U.S. immigration policy of separating children from their families when they enter the United States as undocumented immigrants, in front of a Homeland Security facility in Elizabeth, NJ, U.S., June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
People participate in a protest against recent U.S. immigration policy of separating children from their families when they enter the United States as undocumented immigrants, in front of a Homeland Security facility in Elizabeth, NJ, U.S., June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
People participate in a protest against recent U.S. immigration policy of separating children from their families when they enter the United States as undocumented immigrants, in front of a Homeland Security facility in Elizabeth, NJ, U.S., June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
Maria Inga whose husband is a detained immigrant cries while people participate in a protest against recent U.S. immigration policy of separating children from their families when they enter the United States as undocumented immigrants, in front of a Homeland Security facility in Elizabeth, NJ, U.S., June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
People participate in a protest against recent U.S. immigration policy of separating children from their families when they enter the United States as undocumented immigrants, in front of a Homeland Security facility in Elizabeth, NJ, U.S., June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
People participate in a protest against recent U.S. immigration policy of separating children from their families when they enter the United States as undocumented immigrants, in front of a Homeland Security facility in Elizabeth, NJ, U.S. June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
Adriano Espaillat (D-NY) speaks during a protest against recent U.S. immigration policy of separating children from their families when they enter the United States as undocumented immigrants, in front of a Homeland Security facility in Elizabeth, NJ, U.S., June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
People participate in a protest against recent U.S. immigration policy that separates children from their families when entering the United States as undocumented immigrants in front of a Homeland Security facility in Elizabeth, NJ, U.S., June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
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“We have men and women saying, 'My 5- and 6-year-old was holding my leg and was taken away,'” said Rahnama, who visited parents and guardians being held in the Port Isabel Detention Center. “They go to court and are told their child will be there when they come back and they come back and there is no child,” he said.

The facility is obscured by foliage and can’t be seen until about halfway up the road leading to it, where officers stand guard, stopping media and others without prior permission to enter. Families who have appointments to visit with people in the detention center drive in and out.

Ofelia Calderon serves on the board of the Dulles Justice Coalition, a group of attorneys that formed when President Donald Trump signed an executive order that initially banned people from seven Muslim majority countries from obtaining visas to enter the U.S.

Calderon said in her interviews of 35 people over a day-and-a-half, 100 percent of them had their children taken from them, about 30 percent had made contact with their child. Of those able to contact their child, only some had a vague idea of the child’s whereabouts and little information on the conditions of where they were staying.

One person Calderon spoke to had a 10-year-old son who had been able to tell the parent “I think I’m in Miami,” but little else.

She said she encountered several women who were victims of sexual assault; but even with that experience, they were more focused in the interviews on finding out about their children than relaying their trauma.

“They are breaking down and saying, 'Where’s my kid?'” Calderon said.

Those who do have contact with their children get about one to two minutes on the phone with them, Calderon said. Some have found out where the children are through family back home. People in detention have to receive money from relatives to buy minutes on phone cards to speak with family members. The attorneys were uncertain whether the calls to their children were free.

The case of a 15-year-old boy who ran away from a shelter in Brownsville was not likely to ease fears of parents who have yet to connect with their kids. A source with direct knowledge of the situation told NBC News the child ran away from Casa Padre in Brownsville, Texas, run by Southwest Key.

The shelter had been in conversation with the man he calls his father, but there had been a discrepancy in a DNA test. Before things could be sorted out, the child left and is now in Mexico, according to the source. The man who the child said was his father is sending him money to return to Honduras.

The source said Southwest Key has 19,849 children in its care — of that number, 42 have left. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) did not return NBC News’ request for comment.

Southwest Key said in a statement that it is a child care center and not a detention center. “If a child attempts to leave any of our facilities, we cannot restrain them,” Southwest Key stated. “We talk to them and try to get them to stay. If they leave the property, we call law enforcement.

DHS said late Saturday that more than 2,000 children have been reunited with parents. More were expected before the weekend is up. Officials said Port Isabel would be its reunification center.

Sometimes it's not just children who attorneys have to locate, but some of the parents as well. Efrén Olivares of the Texas Civil Rights Project can no longer find three clients who were part of a group of five parents who complained in a petition filed with the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, part of the Organization of American States, about the child separations.

“They were either released to the U.S. with notice to appear (at a court at a later date) or were deported. We are looking diligently to contact them. We gave them a number and asked them to contact us if they were released,” Olivares said. “We have not heard from them."

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