Immigrant families remain apart with no end in sight
As the U.S. government said it had reunited every immigrant family it could, Josefina Ortiz Corrales remained in an immigration detention center and her adopted son in the care of her elder daughter.
Paulina Gutierrez was in her hometown in Guatemala, earning less than $2 a day preparing strings for candle wicks while praying for the quick return of her 7-year-old daughter from government custody in Arizona. She cries every night without fail as she thinks about her decision to agree to be deported in the mistaken belief that the girl would come home with her.
Hundreds of families remain separated a day after Thursday’s court-ordered deadline, with no reunification in sight. Lawyers and advocates sharply criticized the U.S. government for creating a bureaucratic and legal snarl that’s made it difficult to reunify families and created a scenario where some may never see their children again.
“There is no question that there may be families that are permanently separated as a result of this policy,” said Michelle Brane, director of migrant rights at the Women’s Refugee Commission.
The government had until the end of day Thursday to reunify more than 2,500 families separated at the U.S.-Mexico under President Donald Trump’s zero-tolerance immigration policy that stoked a global outrage. The government said it had reunited more than 1,800 children over the age of 5 with parents or placed them with sponsors who are often relatives.
That leaves 700 who remain apart, including what is believed to be more than 400 cases where the parents have been deported. The government will have to come up with a plan for completing those foreign reunions by flying children back to Central America, but advocacy groups are already stepping in to fill the void.
The American Civil Liberties Union plans to start looking for all the parents on their own while going back through all of the cases of those not yet reunified to see if they could put more families back together. The advocacy group Kids in Need of Defense has deployed staff to Honduras and Guatemala to facilitate reunions.
“I think it’s going to be really hard detective work,” said Lee Gelernt, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney.
The government says the mothers and fathers of 120 children “waived reunification” and dozens more weren’t eligible to get their children back because they had criminal records or weren’t the biological parent.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials say some of the parents who were deported had the chance to take their children and declined after already paying smugglers thousands of dollars to make the dangerous journey from Central America and wanting a better life for their kids to stay in the U.S.
Many parents say that’s not true.
The ACLU this week filed affidavits from several attorneys that detail what it considers flawed procedures, including limited phone access and strict visitation policies, language barriers and being given only a few minutes to decide whether to leave their children in the United States.
One lawyer, Luis Cruz, said in a filing that he met five fathers who were on a government list of parents who had relinquished their rights to reunify with their children. The fathers all said they had signed a government form despite not being able to read or write in Spanish or English. Many adults from Central America, including Gutierrez, are from indigenous communities and Spanish is their second language.