President Donald Trumps administration said Thursday, July 26 that more than 1,800 children separated at the U.S.-Mexico border have been reunited with parents and sponsors but hundreds remain apart, signaling a potentially arduous task ahead as it deals with the fallout of its “zero tolerance” policy on people entering the U.S. illegally.
There have been 1,442 children 5 and older reunified with their parents in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody and 378 others who were released “in other appropriate circumstances,” including to other sponsors, the Justice Department said in a court filing.
Still, more than 700 parents were deemed not eligible or currently not eligible, many of whom may have been deported. Of those, 431 children have parents outside the United States.
Over 2,500 children were separated from parents at the border in the past several months amid a “zero tolerance” policy that criminally prosecuted anyone caught crossing illegally.
Some children who had not seen their parents in weeks or months seemed slow to accept that they would not be abandoned again. One father who was reunited last week said his young daughter did not believe that he would not leave her a second time.
“I think that some of the children very quickly attach. Others, theres a distance. Theres this caution, this lack of certitude, and part of it is not understanding what happened,” said Ruben Garcia, director of the Annunciation House, an immigrant assistance center in El Paso, Texas, that has received about 25 families each day this week.
Monica Curca, director of the nonprofit Activate Labs in Garden Grove, was among the volunteers who traveled this week to McAllen, Texas, to greet migrants released from a detention center there.
Large groups streamed into a bus station from a nearby Catholic Charities facility, where the parents and children were fed after their release, Curca said Thursday. From there, they bought bus tickets to places like Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and New York.
Their mood was somber. Many appeared disheveled. Some appeared sick after being held in very cold rooms during detention, Curca said in a phone interview.
“Some of them look like theyve been through a war,” Curca said.
New York resident Aileen Charleston, another Activate Labs volunteer, said: “Theres a lot of numbness in the way they tell you their story. They dont seem to remember what happened yesterday.”
Lee Gelernt, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union who represents the separated families, said before the latest figures were announced that the government should not be congratulating itself for meeting its “self-defined” deadline.
“The government shouldnt be proud of the work theyre doing on reunification,” he said. “It should just be, We created this cruel, inhumane policy … now were trying to fix it in every way we can and make these families whole. ” The Department of Homeland Securitys internal watchdog said it would review the separation of families, along with the conditions at Border Protection facilities where migrant children are held, in response to scores of congressional requests to do so.
For the past two weeks, children have been arrivingsteadily at ICE locations in Texas, Arizona and New Mexico to be reunited with parents. Faith-based and other groups have provided meals, clothing, legal advice and plane and bus tickets. The families are generally released, and parents are typically given ankle-monitoring bracelets and court dates to appear before an immigration judge.
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But confusion and fear lingers. Jose Dolores Muñoz, 36, of El Salvador was reunited with his 7-year-old daughter last Friday, nearly two months after they were separated. His daughter cries when he leaves the house because she thinks hes not coming back.
“She is afraid,” Muñoz said in Spanish. “Yesterday I left her crying; she is telling me, You are not coming back. You are lying. You are leaving me. ” U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego commended the government Tuesday for its recent efforts, calling it “a remarkable achievement.”
“It is the reality of a policy that was in place that resulted in large numbers of families being separated without forethought as to reunification and keeping track of people,” said Sabraw, an appointee of Republican President George W. Bush.
Lourdes de Leon, who turned herself in to immigration authorities, was deported to her native Guatemala on June 7, but her 6-year-old son, Leo, remained in the U.S.
De Leon said Guatemalan consular officials told her signing a deportation order would be the easiest way to reunite with Leo.
“He is in a shelter in New York,” de Leon said. “My baby already had his hearing with a judge who signed his deportation eight days ago. But I still do not know when they are going to return him to me.”
Immigration attorneys said they had advocates on the ground in Central America to help parents who were deported without their children. And Gelernt said the ACLU would go looking for all of the parents to determine whether they intentionally left without their children.
“I think its going to be really hard detective work,” he said. “And hopefully were going to find them.”
Both sides were due back in court today, when the judge is expected to decide whether to ban deportations of families for seven days after they are reunified so that parents could have time to discuss their options.
Late last month, Sabraw ordered a nationwide halt to family separations, which Trump effectively did on his own June 20 following an international outcry. Sabraw issued a 14-day deadline to reunite children under 5 with their parents and 30 days for children 5 and older.
On Friday, July 27, family attorneys will begin turning their attention to those who werent reunited — parents who had a criminal record, parents who were no longer in the U.S. and children who were handed over to other sponsors, Gelernt said.
Long reported from Washington. Southern California News Group writer Roxana Kopetman in Santa Ana; Associated Press writers Astrid Galvan in El Paso, Texas; Alan Fram in Washington, D.C.; and Sonia Perez D. in Guatemala City contributed to this report.