Migrant parents face high hurdles to getting kids back
EL PASO, Texas
In an unmarked brick building a few blocks from the Mexican border, immigrant parents clutched folders of birth certificates and asylum paperwork and sat on folding chairs, waiting to use a single, shared land-line phone.
They rushed to the phone as their names were called with word that a relative or government worker was on the line, perhaps with news about their children.
For days and weeks now, some of the hundreds of parents separated from their children at the Mexican border by the Trump administration have been battling one of the world’s most complex immigration systems to find their youngsters and get them back.
For many, it has been a lopsided battle, and a frustrating and heartbreaking one. Most do not speak English, many know nothing about their children’s whereabouts, and some say their calls to the government’s 1-800 information hotline have gone unanswered.
Now, at least, they have the legal system on their side, since a federal judge in California ordered the Trump administration Tuesday night to reunite the more than 2,000 children with their parents in 30 days, or 14 days in the case of youngsters under 5.
But huge logistical challenges remain, and whether the U.S. government can manage to clear away the red tape, confusion and seeming lack of coordination and make the deadline remains to be seen.
The Justice Department and the Department of Health and Human Services, which is in charge of the children, gave no immediate details Wednesday on how they intend to respond to the ruling.
Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said he believes the deadline is realistic.
“Matching up 2,000 kids, which is probably fewer than the number of entrants into JFK on a very busy day, should not be a problem for the U.S. federal government if it chooses to make it a priority,” he said. “It’s a question of political will, not resources.”
Among the complicating factors: Children have been sent to shelters all over the United States, thousands of miles from the border. And perhaps hundreds of parents have already been deported from the U.S. without their children.
In El Paso, three dozen parents released Sunday from a U.S. detention center started a feverish search for their children, using the land-line phone at a shelter run by Annunciation House.
Some of those at Annunciation House rushed to catch buses bound for New York, Dallas and the West Coast to live with family members in the hope that establishing residency will make it easier to get their kids back. Those who left for other cities carried little more than shopping bags stuffed with sandwiches and paperwork.