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Immigration Lawyer On Separated Children


The deadline to reunite migrant children, who were separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, has come and gone. And this weekend hundreds of children are still waiting. Attorneys across the U.S. were working to get children back to their guardians, whether in the U.S. or their home countries. Priya Konings is an attorney with the nonprofit Kids in Need of Defense. She joins us in our studios. Ms. Konings, thanks so much for being with us.

PRIYA KONINGS: Sure. Thank you for having me.

SIMON: You and your team represent 107 children, I'm told, were sent to New York after they were separated from their parents or guardians.

KONINGS: That's correct.

SIMON: How do you do that?

KONINGS: It's been incredibly challenging. We took on the representation of these children with the hope of reuniting them with their parents and advocating for them in the best possible way that we could. But we have faced almost an insurmountable amount of challenges in our representation of these clients.

SIMON: Like what?

KONINGS: So part of the issue is a number of our clients have been released. And we weren't provided with any notice. And we don't actually know where they are now. So these are people that we have signed...

SIMON: These are children...

KONINGS: ...Children.

SIMON: You don't know where they are.

KONINGS: Yes, children. We have signed retainers with them. We are actively representing them, but we don't actually know their whereabouts. Furthermore, as part of our representation, we need to advise and consult with our clients. And it's almost impossible to advise a child without being provided any information from the government about what their plan is for these children. Are they planning on reuniting them with the separated parent? Are they planning on deporting them? Are they planning on sending them to a different sponsor in the U.S.? We have no idea. Oftentimes, we aren't given any information. I wake up one day, and I get an email from someone that says this kid has now been released. Hopefully, we'll figure out where they went.

SIMON: So the government isn't providing you with information. And then when it does, it's providing you with information that makes it sound like it's too late for you to take any action.

KONINGS: That's correct. A lot of times I'll get information that the child has been sent to an adult detention facility. But then once they reunify, they go to a different detention facility - a family detention facility. So then I'm scrambling to track down this child. And then, also, how can I have any meaningful consultation when I don't know exactly where they are? I don't have any contact information. So it's been a real challenge.

SIMON: I don't want to make this sound remote and antiseptic - can you tell us about one or two youngsters, particularly important that you found?

KONINGS: Sure. I mean, I can tell you about one particular reunification fiasco that we had recently...

SIMON: Please.

KONINGS: ...that's been on my mind. We had two siblings who were sent to the border to reunify with their mother, who was in detention. These two siblings really relied on each other. There was an older one who was 14 and a younger one who was 9. Instead of sending them together, the government decided to separate them and send them at different times. They sent them to the facility. And they moved mom before the kids got there. And when the kids got there, they told the kids that they had deported mom. And the kids still aren't together at this point. The kids are in complete panic mode. They call a relative and tell the relative I don't know where I am or where my mom is. KIND tracks down the relative. And we're in panic mode not knowing how to help these kids. Eventually, they track mom down, who actually hasn't been deported. And then they reunify the kids - the two kids - one by one with mom in a family detention center days later. At this point, the mom, the kids, everybody's completely traumatized. And in fact, we still don't even have contact with our clients. So this is not how we envisioned reunification to be happening. But it's been disastrous to say the least in many situations.

SIMON: And I'm sure you have been told by child care experts that's the kind of - that's lifelong trauma, what's happened to that family.

KONINGS: Absolutely. Absolutely. Especially for the younger one, I think.

SIMON: Priya Konings of Kids in Need of Defense, thank you very much for coming in and speaking with us today.

KONINGS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.