The First Round of Immigrant Family Reunification Has Been a Chaotic Mess

Parents are trying to reunify with their kids, but there are many obstacles.

The Trump administration failed to meet their court mandated family reunification deadline for the roughly 100 immigrant children under the age five who were separated from their families this week. As many reports show, this is not surprising: The entire process has been — and continues to be — marred by chaos.

The government announced today that it had finished reuniting all immigrant children under 5 who are eligible for reunification with their families — some 57 out of 103 toddlers. Forty-six of those kids were not eligible for reunification for myriad reasons. At least a dozen of those children have not yet been reunified because their parents have been released from detainment and have not yet been located by authorities. Some of these parents have already been deported — without their children.

The HHS claims that they will be working to find those who were deported by contacting their home countries consulates; however, they admitted that they aren’t sure how much they can do for those families, as they don’t have the legal authority to bring those deported parents back into the country.

“What’s become clear now is that the agencies tasked with accomplishing all this detention and deportation were not properly tracking which children belonged with which adults and were not working in sync,” MySanAntonio reports.

Certain families have not been reunited because the parent has a criminal history, is a danger to the kid, or is not a biological parent. While the DHS and HHS rightly claim that some of these obstacles are for the safety of the child, the question of how those children will even leave detainment still looms. Chris Meekins of the HHS said to Politico: “Each step in the process that HHS uses is necessary to protect these kids. Eliminating any one of these steps will endanger children.”

Some parents who are still in custody are cleared for asylum — they presented themselves at the border as asylum seekers, rather than crossing illegally. Yet they remain stuck behind red tape. Express News reports that two such mothers held outside of San Antonio have still not been reunified with their children who are ages three and four. Those two mothers have been separated from their kids for two and six months, respectively.

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Some parents showing up at detainment centers to reunite with their children were given background checks on the spot, according to a previous report by the New York Times, which takes time to complete and could mean a delay in reunifying. Some immigration attorneys have concerns about the government even being able to find the kids and families they separated.

Efren Olivares, of the Texas Civil Rights Project, went to immigration courts every single day and worked them throughout the family separation crisis. He was concerned that, while the government was systematically separating families, there was no plan to reunify them. And although parents are no longer being separated from their kids, family separation is still happening, and the government considered non-parents with minors eligible for reunification even if they crossed the border together. “We’re seeing other relatives, siblings separated from their underage siblings; cousins and grandparents; but not parents anymore,” Olivares told Fatherly.

Although the government does have a record-keeping system for unaccompanied minors in detainment, that record-keeping system is deeply flawed. The web portal is supposed to have locating and identifying information on all child and adult detainees, but a report from PRI says that the computer system, designed to track and keep records on unaccompanied immigrant minors, has an array of issues: the portal’s bandwidth only allows a few users online at once, lest it crash; it consistently loses previously saved data of detained children on the portal; the search function is inadequate to the point that if a name is misspelled by one letter, or if the kid had two last names, they can not be found; and it doesn’t actually interact with or have any contact with a separate database headed by ICE, which is supposed to track the same information for the children’s parents.

The government has until July 26 to reunite all unaccompanied minors over the age of 5. There are around 3,000 children over the age of five currently in U.S. custody. Many of them are thousands of miles away from their parents, being held in detention centers across the country.