Sylvia, the mother of the three girls, center, listens while her attorney, Mony Ruiz-Velasco of PASO, speaks after finding out they would be released Thursday, July 18, 2019 at OHare International Airport following their trip to Mexico. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

What we know about the children detained by border protection officers at O’Hare

What happened? Border protection officials said the children arrived on a flight with an adult who was determined to be inadmissible.

CHICAGO — Immigration allies, Mexican Consulate officials, a U.S. congresswoman and TV news cameras converged on O’Hare International Airport on Thursday after federal Customs and Border Protection officer held three children who are U.S. citizens after they arrived on a flight from Mexico.

What happened? Border protection officials said the children arrived on a flight with an adult who was determined to be inadmissible and was not allowed entry. Officials said they held the children for several hours, providing them food and drinks, while attempting “numerous times” to reach a family member to pick up the children. The children’s mother, identified only as Sylvia, told reporters that, because she does not have legal status to reside in the U.S., she feared she would be detained for deportation if she showed up at the airport. The woman said she sent her son and daughter-in-law, a U.S. citizen, to retrieve the children but authorities would not relinquish them.

What about the relative who accompanied the children? The adult who accompanied the children, ages 9, 10 and 13, was deemed “inadmissible” to the U.S., according to Customs and Border Protection. The agency referred to the children’s escort as a male, but the family’s advocates said it was Sylvia’s niece and that she had a visa that should have allowed entry. Border protection officials said they cannot release details about specific cases, citing privacy laws.

Who’s allowed in, and who’s not? Generally speaking, no one is allowed entry to the U.S. unless they are a citizen or demonstrate they are admissible, according to Customs and Border Protection. Hundreds of thousands of people are denied entry every year for reasons that could include improper or fraudulent travel documents, past immigration violations, a criminal background or criminal activity like smuggling, the agency said. About 600 people are denied entry on average every day, a tiny percentage of the approximately 1 million who are admitted on a daily basis at 330 ports of entry, according to the agency.

What is the mother’s status? According to an immigration lawyer, she is not a legal U.S. resident but has a pending application for U-visa, which if approved provides legal status for people who are victims of certain crimes in the U.S. and who cooperate with law enforcement.

How was the situation at O’Hare resolved? As protesters and media waited outside the Customs and Border Protection office at O’Hare, representatives from the Mexican Consulate met privately with immigration enforcement officials, apparently brokering a deal that allowed the mother to retrieve the children without being taken into custody herself because of her immigration status. U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky also arrived in the office and sought to intervene. The children were held for more than 12 hours, according to their mother. It’s not clear if the agency will seek to detain or deport the mother at a later date.

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