EL PASO, Texas — A little boy with a wooden toy guitar walked knee high next to his father, one family among three undocumented migrant dads reunited and released with their young children here.
The joyful reunion Tuesday night occurred on the deadline a federal court set for the reunification of so-called tender-age immigrant children with their parents. The two boys and a girl, who appeared to be about 3 or 4 years old, are staying with their dads at the Casa Vides shelter downtown.
"Feliz, muy feliz," one dad responded when a shelter worker asked how he felt, saying he was very happy.
The children quickly found toys inside the shelter.
One boy played with plush animals and a toy farmhouse that made animal noises. The girl grabbed a doll with a pink dress.
The other boy played with a headless Buzz Lightyear doll, telling his father that he was hungry before getting a cup of apple sauce.
The dads were reunited with their kids at a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in El Paso before being released to the shelter, said Director Ruben Garcia of Annunciation House, which operates Casa Vides.
Annunciation House received word of the reunification of families at about 6:15 p.m. CT Tuesday, Garcia said. The parents and children arrived at Casa Vides at about 8:30 p.m. in a government van.
They carried a few bags, including cloth Walmart bags.
Because of the separation, Garcia said he was worried how the kids arriving Tuesday evening would react. Some of those concerns melted away after he saw how happy the children were with their dads.
"There was a just a genuine union between parent and child," Garcia said, describing the arrival of fathers and children at the shelter.
One of the boys had a big smile, came up to him, told him his name and gave him a handshake, Garcia said.
"You are safe here," Garcia told the men in Spanish after they entered the shelter.
The dads told Garcia that they had little notice that they were being released from a immigrant detention facility near El Paso. It was not immediately available how long they had been separated from their children.
One man mentioned he was from Honduras. The home countries of the other two men were not disclosed.
The stress and emotion of the situation could be heard in the voices of the men as they spoke with Garcia. One man told Garcia that the U.S. Border Patrol treated him like he was nothing.
"Who do you think you are? What gives you the right to come illegally into my country?" one agent told the migrant.
Later, at a news conference outside the shelter, Garcia said he didn't know how many tender-age immigrant children, of about 5 years or younger, may be in El Paso.
The three dads didn't attend the news conference outside.
Garcia said he was thankful for the reunification of the three fathers but said 1,000 to possibly 1,500 parents "who tonight will sleep in an immigration detention center" away from their children.
Two weeks ago, his shelter received 32 parents trying to reunite with their children after being arrested at the border. They were sent to jail or detention centers and the children were sent to shelters in different parts of the United States. Those immigrants were from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Most of those immigrants have gone on to the homes of their sponsors in different parts of the U.S. They must still appear before immigration authorities.
Follow Daniel Borunda on Twitter: @BorundaDaniel