The Trump administration acknowledged Tuesday that it has no real plan on how to reunite migrant parents with their children after they are separated at the U.S.-Mexico border under President Trump's new "zero tolerance" policy. The parents are detained by the Homeland Security Department while the children are transferred to the custody of the Health and Human Services Department's Office of Refugee Resettlement. "This policy is relatively new," said Steven Wagner, an acting HHS assistant secretary. "We're still working through the experience of reunifying kids with their parents after adjudication."
Former acting U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Sandweg predicted Tuesday that some of the children and parents won't be reunited for years, if ever. "Permanent separation — it happens," Sandweg, who led the agency in 2013-14, told NBC News. The parents are pushed through court and often deported fairly quickly, but the children are processed at a dramatically slower rate, and once the parents are back in Central America, the odds of reunification drop dramatically, Sandweg said. Because children who spend years in the foster system are often made wards of the state and adopted, he added, "you could be creating thousands of immigrant orphans in the U.S. that one day could become eligible for citizenship when they are adopted."
The parents are given a slip of paper with a list of their charges — usually a misdemeanor — and a 1-800 number with the message: "For assistance in locating your child(ren), you may contact the Office of Refugee Resettlement." Lawyers who work with the immigrants say that system isn't working well so far. "If the administration doesn't reunify these children very quickly, which is logistically very hard to do, you're going to have a lot of permanent separations," Sandweg told Canada's Global News. "It happened very rarely under the prior administration, our overall policy was to keep families unified." You can watch Sandweg elaborate on MSNBC Tuesday night. Peter Weber