Reunification prospects unclear for freed immigrant parents
A Texas charitable organization says about 30 immigrant parents separated from their children after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border were freed into its care Sunday, but they don’t know where their kids are or when they might see them again despite government assurances that family reunification would be well organized.
The release is believed to be the first, large one of its kind since President Donald Trump signed an executive order Wednesday that preserved a “zero-tolerance” policy for entering the country illegally but ended the practice of separating immigrant parents and children. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement offered no immediate comment.
Ruben Garcia, director of Annunciation House in El Paso, says the parents arrived to his group after federal authorities withdrew criminal charges for illegal entry. He didn’t release names or personal details to protect the parents’ privacy, and Homeland Security officials said they needed more specifics in order to check out their cases.
A Saturday night fact sheet by the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies said authorities know the location of all children in custody after separating them from their families at the border and are working to reunite them. It called the reunification process “well coordinated.”
It also said parents must request that their child be deported with them. In the past, the fact sheet says, many parents elected to be deported without their children. That may be a reflection of violence or persecution they face in their home countries.
It doesn’t state how long it might take to reunite families. Texas’ Port Isabel Service Processing Center has been set up as the staging ground for the families to be reunited before deportation.
How the government would reunite families has been unclear because they are first stopped by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, with children taken into custody by the Department of Health and Human Services and adults detained through ICE, which is under the Department of Homeland Security. Children have been sent to far-flung shelters around the country, raising alarm that parents might never know where their children can be found.
At least 2,053 minors who were separated at the border were being cared for in HHS-funded facilities, the fact sheet said.
The chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee hedged Sunday when pressed on whether he was confident the Trump administration knows where all the children are and will be able to reunite them with their parents.
“That is what they’re claiming,” Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Meanwhile, the Pentagon is preparing to build temporary camps for immigrants at two military bases, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Sunday.
He did not name the two bases, but said the details are being worked out, including how much capacity is needed. The Pentagon had initially talked about four potential bases, but Mattis indicated the number is now two.
The Pentagon last week said it would make space available on military bases for as many as 20,000 unaccompanied migrant children detained after illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. It wasn’t clear Sunday if the housing would be limited strictly to children or if it would also involve families.