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Family Reunification Case Update


We've got an update now on the children who were separated from their families after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. A federal judge in San Diego will decide today if the government is doing enough to reunite these families. The Trump administration said yesterday that all of the, quote, "eligible" children under age 5 had been reunited with their parents. But nearly half of this very young group, 46 kids, were deemed ineligible by the government for reunification. Joining us for more, John Sepulvado of member station KQED, who's been covering this story from the beginning. Hey, John.


MARTIN: Why are these children being considered ineligible for reunification?

SEPULVADO: Well, in large part because their parents are unable to take them. In some cases, it's because their parents are unable to take them due to crimes committed in the past. There - one man from Guatemala is alleged to have committed murder in his home country. But then the crimes seemingly get rather minor. There's a man who, for example, won't be reunified with his child because of a DUI conviction. And then there are the 12 parents who've been deported. These are people who are - have been sent back to their country of origin, and their children are still here in the United States.

MARTIN: Sent back as a result of the recent immigration policy by the Trump administration?

SEPULVADO: Exactly. And in some cases - and KQED has confirmed this - they've been told, hey, sign this piece of paper. We'll get you on your way. We'll get you back with your kid. And instead, it's almost like a straight ticket to deportation.

MARTIN: OK. So what's this federal judge looking for today regarding these 46 kids?

SEPULVADO: Well, he wants to make sure that, you know, these kids actually can't be reunified and maybe perhaps - and not to speculate - but perhaps, like in the case of the DUI, the man with the DUI - they can be reunified. The judge is also going to consider some of the details of this. One of the things to come out in this court ruling or - pardon me - in this court proceeding is that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, ICE officers, have done things that, you know - they are pretty, at the very least, eyebrow-raising.

For example, ICE officers dropped off a mother and her children after reunifying her with her young child and other child at a bus station with no money and no way to get anywhere and just, like, no way to call anyone. There's another example where ICE seemed very - at the very least incompetent. They were - and this was according to court proceedings - they were supposed to fit somebody with an ankle monitor, could not. And so they didn't reunify the person because they couldn't get the ankle monitor to work.

So those are reasons that the judge is going to look at and evaluate whether the government has done their due diligence in reuniting these families.

MARTIN: So we've been focusing our conversation on the very young kids under age 5. What about the kids who are 5 and above? Where does that process stand?

SEPULVADO: So in 13 days, Rachel, almost 2,900 kids are going to be reunified. That is a tall order. Even the government acknowledges as much. And we're expecting the government to ask for more time in that. A part of the problem is data collection. Like, part of the problem is they just frankly didn't keep good records. So there are a lot of issues with reunifying those parents. The ACLU - what they're hoping for at this point is that the government has learned from trying to reunify these younger kids and won't make the same mistake. The judge has made it very clear he doesn't want to hear excuses for why the kids aren't unified. And he wants to see swift action taken by the government.

MARTIN: Just really quick - are separations still happening?

SEPULVADO: There are some in limited cases. Yes, separations are still happening in limited cases.

MARTIN: John Sepulvado of member station KQED sharing his reporting for us this morning. Thanks so much, John.

SEPULVADO: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

John's from Southern California. He attended Journalism School at Florida A&M in Tallahassee. John's reporting has earned four Edward R. Murrow awards for investigations, and he shared in a Peabody for CNN's Gulf Coast Oil-Spill Coverage. He has also won numerous other national and regional awards for his investigative and multimedia coverage.