Families DividedMore in this series
In a statement issued late Saturday night, the Trump administration said it has 2,053 “separated minors” in its custody, and a formal process has been established to reunite them with their parents prior to deportation.
The joint declaration by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services came three days after Trump signed a hastily written executive order to quell public outcry and halt his administration’s practice of taking away the children of migrant parents who cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.
The Saturday night communique said 522 migrant children have already been returned to their parents, and the government would allow mothers and fathers facing deportation to request that their children are sent home with them.
“The United States government knows the location of all children in its custody and is working to reunite them with their families,” the statement read. “This process is well coordinated.”
Domestic and global furor over the separation system has not been mollified by Trump’s order, with federal agencies still struggling to explain how they would put families back together again and ensure migrant children did not remain in U.S. foster care thousands of miles from their deported parents.
Multiple reports have surfaced in recent weeks of parents sent back to Central America without their children and little idea where their kids may be held at one of more than 100 government shelters.
The joint statement said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has designated the Port Isabel Service Processing Center in South Texas “as the primary family reunification and removal center for adults in their custody.”
Under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” crackdown on illegal immigration, parents who cross illegally with children have been sent to face criminal prosecution while their kids are assigned to foster care facilities run by HHS.
The parents are typically then transferred to adult immigration jails run by ICE, and they have been given little information about how to find their children or regain custody.
The lack of coordination between government agencies has led to weeks of confusion and swelling numbers of children at risk of being stranded in American foster care, thousands of miles from their parents.
Under the government’s new plan, according to the statement, parents will receive more information about the whereabouts of their children and telephone operators will facilitate more frequent communication.
The reunification plan will have a few exceptions, the statement said.
“There will be a small number of children who were separated for reasons other than zero tolerance that will remain separated,” it read. “Generally only if the familial relationship cannot be confirmed, we believe the adult is a threat to the safety of the child, or the adult is a criminal alien.”
ICE will also implement a system for tracking separated family members and rejoining them before their deportation as a unit. It will put parents separated from their children in designated units where they will have easier access to communication, and ICE agents will coordinate travel planning and documentation with HHS personnel to make sure parents and children depart the United States together, the statement said.
Sixteen children were due to be reunited with their parents within 24 hours, the statement said, after bad weather delayed their travel. The statement did not indicate how long the government would take to return the other 2,053 separated minors who remain in federal custody.