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family separations
March 9, 2019

A federal judge in California has ordered the Trump administration to reunite thousands of families who were separated at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The decision follows an earlier one which initially stated that the administration was responsible for reuniting 2,800 families who were separated after June 26, 2018. But a watchdog report revealed that thousands of additional families may have been separated as far back as July 1, 2017. The judge, Dana Sabraw, has now included those families in his ruling.

Identifying the families will likely prove to be difficult, as the government did not have an adequate tracking system at the time of the separations. Per the Associated Press, Justice Department attorney Scott Stewart told Sabraw last month that adding more families to the order would be "a significant burden" and "blow the case into some other galaxy." Jallyn Sualog, the deputy director of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement, said in a court filing that reviewing each additional case would require a "rapid, dramatic" expansion in staffing.

Sabraw acknowledged the difficulties, but also said identifying the families "clearly can be done." Tim O'Donnell

March 3, 2019

A group of 29 parents from across Central America who were deported and separated from their children by U.S. immigration agents last year crossed the U.S. border on Saturday.

The parents, some of whom have been separated from their children for nearly a year, are demanding asylum hearings in the hopes of reuniting with their children. The parents have traveled toward the border for the past month, accompanied by immigration lawyers and religious leaders

The families have a total of 27 children in U.S. custody. Some of the children remain in detention, while others are living with foster families. Customs and Border Protection began processing the asylum claims late in the day.

One father from Guatemala said that he waited for seven hours on Saturday for information from U.S. immigration officials.

"Time doesn't matter," he told NBC News. "Our love for our child has no price." Read more at The Washington Post and NBC News. Tim O'Donnell

October 14, 2018

President Trump on Saturday confirmed The Washington Post's Friday report that his administration is considering ways to legally revive its suspended policy of separating migrant children from their parents at the border.

"We're looking at a lot of different things having to do with illegal immigration," he said. "We're going to do whatever we can do to get it slowed down."

Splitting up families, Trump argued, could serve as a deterrent. "If they feel there will be separation, they don't come," he said, claiming without evidence that there are "really bad people coming in" who "haven't known the children for 20 minutes, and they grab children, and they use them to come into our country."

Border apprehensions have increased this year after a decline in 2017; nevertheless, the larger trend is a marked decline over the past two decades. Many of the families separated were not illegal immigrants but asylum-seekers who attempted to enter the country legally. Several hundred children remain separated from their families months after the separation policy was shut down in court. Bonnie Kristian

October 12, 2018

President Trump is frustrated that his border crackdown has been curtailed, and is working on finding a way to legally separate migrant parents and children, The Washington Post reported Friday.

In an effort to dissuade migrant families from attempting to cross the border illegally, the White House is considering several different detention options. One possibility is that families seeking asylum will be detained together for up to 20 days, then will have to decide whether they want to stay in family detention or send the children to a government shelter.

Family detention would allow parents to stay with their children, but they could be detained for months or years as they get through the lengthy legal immigration process. On the other hand, allowing children to be taken into a shelter would mean other family members or guardians in the U.S. could take them into custody.

The consideration is a response to the fierce backlash to the administration's "zero tolerance" policy on immigration. Starting in May, thousands of migrant children were separated from their families to be detained separately as their parents were prosecuted. Trump signed an executive order ending the practice, but Vox reports that various loopholes have continued to separate families even as the administration works to comply with a court order to reunite all migrant family units.

White House adviser Stephen Miller, who has been at the front of the administration's hardline immigration policies, has reportedly been pushing to create a new policy. He reportedly felt that the practice was an effective deterrent against illegal immigration. Miller is apparently determined to reinstate the separations, no matter how bad "optics" may be. Read more at The Washington Post. Summer Meza

October 2, 2018

The Trump administration's policy of separating migrant children from their families was generally panned on ethical and humanitarian grounds — but a new report from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) finds it was an exemplar of government incompetence, too.

More than 800 children were illegally kept in holding cells longer than the 72 hours permitted by court order, reports The Washington Post, which obtained a copy of the document. One child was held in this manner for 25 days. Some of these holding cell facilities, intended for short-term use, had no beds or showers.

DHS also had no real system to keep track of children too young to speak to identify themselves or their parents. "Border Patrol does not provide pre-verbal children with wrist bracelets or other means of identification," the report says, "nor does Border Patrol fingerprint or photograph most children during processing to ensure that they can be easily linked with the proper file."

Technological failings were serious, too. Federal computer systems often cannot communicate with one another, so detained children's personal information was transferred via emailed Microsoft Word documents. "Each step of this manual process is vulnerable to human error," the DHS OIG says, "increasing the risk that a child could become lost in the system."

Worse yet, DHS claimed in June to have made a "central database" of separated children so they could be easily reunited with their families. The OIG report found no such database exists.

Finally, the OIG found border agents turned away migrants who sought asylum at legal entrances. In some cases, this prompted the would-be asylum-seekers to enter the U.S. illegally instead.

More than 400 children remained separated from their families as of early September. Bonnie Kristian

August 28, 2018

Hillary Clinton went on a tweeting spree, but hers wasn't about alleged Google censorship.

Clinton, who faced President Trump in the 2016 presidential election, took the administration to task in a series of tweets Tuesday. "There's a lot going on right now — understatement of the year," she wrote. She reminded her followers that hundreds of migrant children who were separated from their parents upon arriving at the border remain in government custody.

Homeland Security officials said last week that about one-fifth of the children who were separated as a result of the administration's "zero-tolerance" immigration policy had yet to be reunited with their parents, even though a federal judge set a July deadline for all reunifications. Despite the missed deadline, the judge said the government was making "very encouraging" progress.

Clinton went on to highlight a few "tragic circumstances," like the Guatemalan toddler who died in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody, and said we should "never read about" such events. "We have to be better than this," Clinton concluded. Summer Meza

July 31, 2018

A refugee resettlement official told the Trump administration that separating families at the border posed psychological dangers for children. The policy proceeded anyway.

Jonathan White, the Office of Refugee Resettlement's former deputy director, told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday that "there is no question that separation of children from parents entails significant potential for traumatic psychological injury to the child." White told lawmakers that he relayed that same information to White House officials for months, but was consistently told family separation "was not the policy of the United States."

White was part of a committee hearing with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, Border Patrol, and ORR officials to answer questions about President Trump's policy separating children from parents at the border. Before he left his ORR position on March 15, he was part of discussions surrounding a hypothetical family separation policy. But even on the day he left the agency — just weeks before the family separation policy took effect — White said he was essentially told it wasn't going to happen. Flash forward a few months, and multiple experts have backed up White's insistence that family separation has hurt children's mental health.

White also discussed how border patrol systems for tracking migrant children were "not set up to have referrals include parent information," seeing as those unaccompanied minors usually didn't arrive with guardians to begin with. That's one of several reasons reunification is taking longer than expected, White said at Tuesday's hearing.

Most children in ORR care do arrive at the border without a parent or guardian, White affirmed. Only about 15 to 20 percent of unaccompanied children were actually separated by the government, and that includes children who were taken from parents with serious criminal records — something ORR has been doing for years. Kathryn Krawczyk

July 10, 2018

The Trump administration has reunited just four of the 102 migrant children age 5 or younger who were supposed to be back with their families by Tuesday, court documents show. Another 50 are expected to be reunified today.

Officials were given the chance to miss the previously imposed Tuesday deadline, with a federal judge requesting a proposed timeline for when each family could be reunited. In the submitted documents explaining the status of the migrant children who were separated from their parents upon arriving in the U.S. under the "zero tolerance" immigration policy, the administration explains that there are a wide range of cases.

The documents show that 26 children have been determined "not eligible for reunification," citing reasons like parents with "serious criminal history" or parents who are being detained in criminal custody. In one case, the government still doesn't know where the child's parent is, writing that "records show the parent and child might be U.S. citizens."

Fifty-one of the 102 cases are classified as "likely eligible for reunification," but the Department of Justice won't make the deadline because the parents are in immigration detention. Another 12 cases won't meet the deadline because the parents were "removed" from the U.S., and the government needs to contact them to "determine whether they wish to have their child reunified with them in their home country."

The judge reportedly agreed with the government's evaluation that children whose parents had criminal convictions wouldn't be subject to Tuesday's deadline, but said he intends to uphold the deadline "on most of the individuals." Summer Meza

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