How Michael Avenatti Joined Forces With a Border-Town Lawyer to Fight for Immigrant Kids
The pair found themselves delivering letters from mothers to their children, including one to a 7-year-old Honduran boy—no longer of what ICE terms a ‘tender age’—named Samir.
Anybody wondering how a porn star’s lawyer came to champion immigrant children who have been separated from their parents need only check Michael Avenatti’s Twitter account.
Along with Avenatti’s many Tweets about his client Stormy Daniels is one on June 17 saying he had decided to enter the fight on behalf of the kids torn from their family as a result of Trump’s zero-tolerance immigration policy.
“If anyone knows of a parent that has had their child taken from them at the border and not returned, please have them contact me as I am entering this fight. This outrageous conduct must be brought to an immediate end.”
He got a quick reply from a Texas border town lawyer named Ricardo de Anda who was inundated with cases. De Anda had decided his indigent clients needed a louder voice than he could give them.
“If you want to get into the middle of it along the Texas border, call or IM me,” de Anda tweeted Avenatti. “My law office phone number is in the phone book. We're in the thick of it and can use all the help we can get.”
Avenatti immediately called.
“He said, ‘What you got?’” de Anda recalls. “I told him what I had. He said, ‘I’d like to help you.’ I said, ‘Send a paralegal down to help me.’ He said, ‘I'll send a lawyer. I'll have a lawyer to you tomorrow.’”
A short time later, Avenatti called back.
“I’m going to be with the lawyer,’” he said by da Anda ‘s recollection. “I’ll see you tomorrow.’”
The following day, Avenatti arrived as promised in Laredo with a lawyer from his firm.
“I tweeted out for help and support as my practice is overwhelmed with defending the women and advocating for their children,” de Anda now announced on Twitter. “Michael was on the Texas border in a snap, lawyers in tow, ready and willing to help. A full throated yes!”
Avenatti went with de Anda to the Port Isabel immigration detention center. They there met with a number of mothers whose children had been forcibly separated from them at the border.
“I have witnessed a lot of drama, pain, and sadness in my legal career,” Avenatti tweeted. “And I have had many moments of doing everything in my power to hold myself together. I have never witnessed anything this upsetting. I will never forget. Toughest day of my career by far. Perhaps of my life.”
De Anda tweeted, “Spoken from the heart.”
The mothers who gave them letters to deliver to their children included a Honduran woman named Levis whose 7-year-old son named Samir had been taken to a facility in Phoenix. She had added a small drawing at the bottom of the second of the two handwritten pages.
“What's that?” de Anda asked.
“That's a car I always draw for him,” the mother replied.
The lawyers flew to Phoenix to see Samir, who was understandably slow to trust them, given that the other adults he had encountered on the American side of the border had taken him away from his mother saying they were just going to give him a bath but then transported him more than 1,000 miles away and now held him captive. The lawyers told the boy that his mother had sent them.
“Not true,” Samir said.
They also told him that his mother loved him.
They said they had a letter from her.
“I don’t believe you.”
He then saw the small drawing.
“Ok,” he said. “Will you read that to me?”
The lawyers did as asked.
To: Samir, the love of my life.
From: your mom. The love of your life.
Hello my love how are you? I hope you are doing well, just want to tell you that everything is ok, I am sorry my son about everything that is going on, this separation hurts my soul…
But I want you to know that I am not abandoning you, son your mom is here and I think about you a lot, when I wake up the first thing I think about are your eyes and I also feel your hugs every morning and I feel your kisses my son…
I miss you deeply Samir, I want you to know that very soon we will be together again and I will hug you. I love you!!! I want to tell you face to face that I am proud of you, you are my purpose…
Do not worry my son, I am doing well…I know you are suffering because you love me. Very soon we will be singing the song we sing and we will be together praying to God…
I do not have any more words to express how much I love you, I wish you could feel how it feels in my heart, I feel someone took a piece from my heart…
My love, know that this is temporary. You will see that very soon you will be giving me kisses, I love how you used to tell me, ‘Mom you are the love of my life.’ I am so proud to have you as my son…
When we are released from here I’m going to take you the aquarium like I promised you. I know that you have always asked me to take you to see animals, dolphins, fishes and penguins, even though you say that you are scared they may eat you hahaha…
I am also going to buy the spider-man toys I promised you. Very very soon we will be together you will see. The God we pray to will take us to be together. You are my prince, my warrior, the love of my life, my heart, my reason for being…
And very soon we will be saying this together: Who is the love of your life? And you will say, you mom!!! Then I will tell you, who is the love of your life? And I will say, You!!!...
I LOVE YOU, kisses, I love you with all my soul. Kisses on your forehead, kisses on the cheeks, kisses my little love. I will see you very soon my son of my heart, you are a star guiding my life. (Here is the little [car] that I always draw for you)…
Your mom, your warrior
Samir made a drawing of his own for the lawyers to give to his mother. The main figure was a woman with considerable muscles and a sword.
“The muscles are because my mother is a powerful woman,” Samir told them by de Anda’s account. “The sword is what she's going to use to protect us after we are back together again.”
De Anda noted that the boy's words had the same effect on Avenatti as they did on him.
“I looked at him and I said, ‘Were you crying?’” de Anda recalls. “We were all crying.”’
The lawyers then traveled to New York, to see two Honduran sisters, 9-year-old Cecia and Sarli, who had just turned 5 and was therefore no longer of what ICE terms “tender age” and eligible for expedited reunification. The girls’ father, Hector Santos, and an older daughter had arrived at the border seeking asylum before zero-tolerance. He had been released with an ankle bracelet and there had been no effort to separate him from the oldest girl.
But the mother had come with the two younger girls right after the crackdown began. The mother had been placed in detention in Texas and the girls had been transported to the Cayuga Center in New York City.
The two lawyers now arrived at the facility, de Anda’s cowboy hat making him a somewhat unusual sight in East Harlem, Avenatti’s much televised mug making him a familiar sight no matter where he went. They asked to see the two sisters, presenting papers certifying that they had been retained to represent the family.
After an hour, the lawyers were still waiting. Three police officers appeared, two in uniform, one in plainclothes. A Cayuga lawyer informed de Anda and Avenatti that since they were both certified there was no way to tell which of them was the primary attorney and therefore neither of them could see the girls.
“I am going to make you famous,” Avenatti told the Cayuga lawyer. “You’re going to be on CNN.”
As the two amigo lawyers rode away from the facility, Avenatti got on Twitter.
“Traveled with my co-counsel @ricardo_de_anda to NYC to visit with our two clients - aged 5 and 9. Cayuga Center refused to let us see them.”
He was not done.
“This is an absolute disgrace. We will provide details shortly but Cayuga Center in NYC should be immediately closed by state and city officials. They cannot be trusted to care for children. Denying children access to their attorneys when the meeting is pre-scheduled is illegal.”
Minutes later, Cayuga Center called. Avenatti tweeted an update.
“Shocking: we just received a call from Cayuga Center and after the press and my tweet, they will now permit us to see our clients. That didn’t take long. We are on our way back to see the girls.”
The younger girl, Sarli, offered them a big smile that was all the more affecting because of her circumstances. The older girl was clearly very smart, but her previous life had not included the American legal system.
“Do you know what a lawyer is?” de Anda asked them.
“No,” the girls said.
“Do you know what injustice is?”
“When somebody punishes you for something you did not do and somebody else did it, that's an injustice,” he explained.
Anda and Avenatti asked the girls how they had been feeling physically.
“Well, I bleed every night and my ear hurts,” the older one, Cecia, said.
“She cries at night because her ear hurts so much and she can’t sleep,” Sarli, said.
Cayuga Center agreed to get Cecia the necessary medical attention. The lawyers learned that the girls were only at the center during the day and spent the night at a foster home. The Cayuga folks declined to provide the name of the foster parents or the address of the home.
“They said, ‘We don’t give out that information,’” de Anda later told The Daily Beast.
For all the power of Twitter and cable-news celebrity, not to mention the law, the two amigo lawyers still do not know where the girls are at night. Or when the girls might be reunited with at least one of their parents. The lawyers have also been unable to reunite Samir and his warrior mom.
De Anda has returned to Laredo and his ranch on the Rio Grande River, where he has watched illegal immigration evolve over the years from male Mexican farmworkers who returned home at Christmas time to entire Mexican families to now families from Central America. But the two amigo lawyers continue the fight together and Avenatti's most famous client has announced her full support.
“I'm an adult that can take care of myself between court dates,” Stormy Daniels tweeted. “Michael & I are in contact at least once a day. In the meantime, each day these children suffer away from their parents is too much. I'm glad Michael is able to help& I condone his efforts!”