Family Reunion Update

Jul 28, 2018
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A court deadline for the Trump administration to reunite all the migrant families it separated at the border has now passed. The government says it has complied. But immigrant advocates point out hundreds of children are still being held in shelters around the country. NPR's John Burnett joins us from Austin. Thanks very much for being with us, John.


SIMON: You've just come back from south Texas, where most of the reunions were taking place. What did you see?

BURNETT: Well, lots of smiling moms and dads hugging their kids very tightly, lots of tears. There was enormous relief after these weeks and even months of confinement. We heard of some maddening problems where the parents were released and then confined again. And some of the kids were sent to wrong locations. But what I saw in the bus station, down in McAllen on the border, was dozens of families keeping their kids close, all wearing these government-issued jeans and sneakers and clutching manila envelopes containing their immigration orders and waiting for buses to cities inside the U.S.

SIMON: Did the government, as it claims, make that deadline to reunite these immigrant families that it had split up in the first place?

BURNETT: Well, that's not really a simple answer to that. The government says it was able to rejoin about 1,440 children with their parents. Now that's more than half of the 2,500 kids who were separated in the first place. But some 700 children remain in youth shelters, and they can really vary. Some of them are like summer camps and some are like boot camps. The government says some of the parents who brought their kids across the border are not eligible to be unified, and that's the key word here - eligible. Some have criminal records, or they're locked up in county jails or state prisons. And then, there are hundreds of parents the government has lost track of. They were released into the U.S., or they've already been deported back to Central America.

SIMON: The federal judge who set that 30-day deadline to reunify held a hearing in San Diego yesterday. What was that like?

BURNETT: So it was Judge Dana Sabraw. And he was inclined to believe the government when it said that it's worked tirelessly 24/7 to bring together all the families that had in its custody in this - these 30 days and that it would bring together all those who were safe to be with their kids again. He said the government deserves great credit for making the deadline on midnight Thursday. It was the ACLU that brought the lawsuit to reunite the families, and the lawyer cautioned the government - don't pat yourself on the back too much. This was a crisis of your own making.

SIMON: What about the families, though, who've already - where the parents have already been sent back to Central America?

BURNETT: Well, this is one of the critical issues for the ACLU. The government said more than 400 adults agreed to be deported without the children they came with. The ACLU claims some of them were duped. They were clueless when they gave their children up - when they signed their removal papers. So you have hundreds of these kids stranded in shelters all over the country or living with close relatives in the U.S. The ACLU asked the judge yesterday to press the government to find the parents in Central America and complete those reunions. No one knows how or even if that's going to happen. Judge Sabraw seems sympathetic to the government saying they only had control over the families in their custody, but he wants ICE and Health and Human Services to keep looking for these missing families, to keep those reunifications coming.

SIMON: What's to come for those families now that they're together but still on the wrong side of the Trump administration's immigration policies?

BURNETT: Well, the government says it's kept 300 or 400 of the reunified families in confinement. They've been moved to these family detention centers in south Texas. They also say there's a thousand families ready to be deported. And it seems like many have been released on bond but are living in limbo. So we've been treated to these scenes this week of all these joyous reunions of parents and children. Now, we may be witness to these not so joyous deportations of these same families back to Guatemala and Honduras and El Salvador, where they fled rampant crime to begin with.

SIMON: NPR's John Burnett, thanks so much for being with us.

BURNETT: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.