For months, US immigration officials have been testing a policy of separating migrant parents from their children along the 268-mile border separating Mexico from New Mexico and West Texas.
What they did not plan to do was How to Reunite Them
When a federal judge ordered the Trump government to divorce more than 2,600 children from their families after a national outcry, the two government agencies in charge ordered the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services did not exactly control the number of children involved or where they were.
There was no single tracking system to track the whereabouts of parents and children. Computer systems could not communicate. Children at the age of a few months were sometimes sent thousands of miles by the parents in Bundeshaft without them being able to make contact. The health and social services, which were already detaining thousands of other migrant children who raided the border on their own, had to manually sift through nearly 1
Cmdr. Jonathan White, a health care family reunification official, said at a court hearing that the system would be rebuilt. "We're building a new logistics process," he said.
The chaos surrounding the mammoth reunification mission, with little precedent and not a single playbook, shows what happens on the ground when a government spontaneously or politically reverses politics. Immigration lawyers and social workers, who have long interacted with the government, said they rarely saw such disorder in federal agencies.
For years, the US government has been struggling to cope with the influx of entire families seeking asylum, rather than the adult men and women who traditionally came to work. Under the Obama administration, a federal judge limited efforts to arrest parents along with their children when their cases were considered. Since then, parents traveling with children have been allowed to leave detention and sometimes merge for years into the population.
In this case, the Trump government wanted to use family separation as a deterrent to would-be cross-border workers.
Now, four weeks after the San Diego judge's order, the government has managed to reunite nearly 1,900 children with their parents, saying that they have complied with the court's deadline. But more than 700 children are still separated, and the meetings have not gone smoothly. A 12-year-old girl from Honduras spent a sleepless night in a parked car in front of a South Texas immigration prison awaiting her mother's release. Another Honduran mother has been brought together with the wrong 10-year-old girl
Homeland and health officials have defended their treatment of the trial, stating that maintaining the existing unaccompanied minor system ensures that no child is placed with someone, who is not her parent or who is otherwise unable to take care of her.
"Every step of our process is necessary to protect children," said Chris Meekins, a top health official. Two weeks ago
lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union said in a court-filing case Wednesday that some parents were facing The government says that they would be deported without their children, misled, and did not understand the papers they signed. The application included several parents who said they had no intention of leaving their children in the US and believed that signing the document was the only way to get their children back. In some cases, the parents are illiterate or speak an indigenous language and do not understand Spanish.
"There was a lack of communication, a lack of care, and this has clearly not been properly thought out," said Sister Donna Markham, director of Catholic Charities USA, a national network that helps the government bring families together after reunification supply.
The Obama administration has partially divorced the family on the recommendation of US immigration and customs clearance in 2014, with an increase in migrant families. The administration decided not to implement the directive. Instead, it opened a small number of family detention centers before a federal judge ruled that children could not be detained there for more than 20 days.
Agents resorted to previous procedures and usually detained adult males while women and children remained According to immigrant advocates, these activities were conducted in the form of a supervised release.
At the start of the Trump administration, ICE officials gave the same recommendation to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, according to a person familiar with the matter. Last summer, federal Immigration officials had begun to test the idea as part of a pilot program that received little attention in the country.
In March, Customs and Border Guard officials met with non-profit groups to report a new feature they introduced: a family tracking number that would help monitor members of the same family in their electronic system. Www.mjfriendship.de/de/index.php?op…80&Itemid=58 The surprise they hoped for was to help keep separate family members from being lost in the bureaucracy. Englisch: www.mjfriendship.de/en/index.php?op…95&Itemid=55 Said offices across the country, "said Jennifer Podkul, Policy Director for Kids in Need of Defense, which represents children in immigration courts.
They soon discovered that the family tracking number did not go beyond the Customs and Border Guard system. In practice, the numbers were useless as soon as a child or parent left custody of the agency.
In April, the heads of CBP, ICE, and US Citizenship and Immigration Services sent a memo to Homeland Secretary Kirstenen Nielsen's border should be prosecuted, including parents traveling with their children.
Officials cited the pilot program and said it was a successful deterrent to illegal frontier workers in the area.
When Attorney General Jeff Sessions went to San Diego in May to announce the government's intention to illegally convict most adults, including parents, 700 children were already separated.
As The prosecutions were intensified as were the divisions. After the arrest of families, they were held together in a border control center. When the adults were brought to trial for ill-treatment, the children were considered "unaccompanied minors" in their absence and were placed in the care of the HHS Refugee Relocation Office.
The program for unaccompanied extraterrestrial children cared for almost 11,800 children, of whom about 80% had crossed the line alone. This was the program that the government would have expected to provide for separated children, said an administrative official who said the planning.
Under this program, the government is sending unaccompanied children to any of the 100 shelters around the country in 17 states. Then the caseworkers start looking for a sponsor in the country – typically a parent or another relative who is already in the US. This process takes about two months and may include DNA testing to verify the legitimacy of adult sponsors. During this time the children usually stay in a shelter.
"The reunification plan would be, as it always has been," said Matt Albence, a senior immigration and customs official, on Thursday.
However, the ORR process was "built to unite children individually, not in bulk," said Mr. White District Judge Dana Sabraw during a San Diego hearing earlier this month. He said that identifying children and their parents is a complicated task. Children fell under the care of ORR. Parents were held by ICE. Customs and border guards were responsible for the separation
. White said the government must put together a data team with representatives of the three different agencies along with a handful of HHS data experts. Meanwhile, officials at his office manually searched each child's file to see if there were any red flags before deciding whether a family could be reunited. Mr. White said the file would contain details about the life of a child in their home country with whom they traveled and additional details about their family structure.
The department initially relied on detailed procedures that prohibited the agency from allowing parents in jail to either sponsor immigration or criminal charges by sponsoring their own children for reunification.
On July 12, the Refugee Rescue Office told the shelters by phone call that it "wanted to meet or exceed the court time" on the call or instructed about it. The office instituted a shortened process that renounced the exhaustive protocols it had used.
The next day, an HHS official told the court that the agency would accelerate reunification by streamlining the process, including the use of DNA to confirm relationships, warning that immigrant children could be at risk, possibly in adults who are not her parents were.
Lawyers had relied heavily on the government's online prisoner search service to keep an eye on customers, said Christie Turner, deputy director of legal affairs at the legal group KIND. The system was not always reliable, she said, and it has gotten worse as ICE has difficulty updating data fast enough.
"Things are constantly changing and it is very difficult for us to get information about what happens to some children or adults we work with," said Ms Turner. "Some people have disappeared from the system."
Houston lawyer Pierre Grosdidier represents a Honduran mother who was first brought together in a prison in South Texas with a child who was not her. His client and child, whom he did not want to identify, were reunited hours later.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Health and Welfare, who oversees the care of separated children, has submitted questions to the Department of Homeland Security on this case. ICE said that "there is no evidence that this alleged incident has occurred" and can not be investigated without specific information.
Outside the Port Isabel detention center in South Texas, a 12-year-old Honduran girl nestled in the backseat of a car with three other children last Monday.
For the next 13 hours she sat up, unable to sleep, squeezed a stuffed rabbit to pass the time, her mother said in an interview and told her what she said, her daughter told her.
The mother said she had been dragged out of her room on Monday afternoon. She told her that she would be released to meet her daughter. She spent the night in a processing cell, where she said her papers were not ready. She leaned on a concrete block and tried to sleep.
When the mother was released the next morning around 9:30 am and met her daughter in a nearby hut, she said her daughter asked her, "Why did not you come to me?"
"I told her if I could have come to you, I would have done it. I came here as fast as I could. "
In a written statement, ICE blamed delays in processing for the confusion. The agency said it has since improved the processing capacity in prison and that most children are reunited with their parents within a few hours of their arrival.
"The safety and well-being of children is our top priority as we adhere to the courts as soon as possible," the agency said.
-Arian Campo-Flores contributed to this article.
Write to Nour Malas at email@example.com and Alicia A. Caldwell to Alicia.Caldwell@wsj.com