Attorneys who are attempting to reunite immigrant families and former U.S. officials alike fear that some of the family separations that took place recently at the southwest border could be permanent, reports The Washington Post. The majority of the 2,300 children who were separated from their parents between May 5 and June 9 are in shelters and foster care across the country, with no hopes of their parents finding them.
Trump’s executive order didn’t include a plan to reunite children with their parents and, according to attorneys, the government has done very little to help. The attorneys working with the parents have launched their own effort to help locate the children who are spread all across the country. However, this task is an extreme undertaking, especially due to the government’s complete refusal to help.
Government officials stated that they have given the parents a flier with the toll-free number for the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a U.S. agency created to provide shelter to unaccompanied immigrant children. According to Texas attorney Jodi Goodwin, who is a part of the Texas Civil Rights Project, none of her clients have received this flier. Multiple attorneys have informed the Post that when they call the toll-free number, normally no one answers but if they do, they refuse to give any information about the location of the child in question. Not only are parents unable to locate their children, but also “bureaucratic errors” have led to a lack of information on the parent’s locations. Ultimately, this means the government doesn’t know if the parent is even still in the United States. As The Huffington Post points out, immigration attorneys say there have been a lot of cases where parents are deported without their children. Kids in Need of Defense, an advocacy group, say they have received 40 family separation case referrals since July 2017 and 32 of them involved parents being deported before their children. 15 of those cases involved children younger than five years old.
To further complicate the mess, many of the children are toddlers or younger, and therefore unable to communicate with attorneys. If they are able to communicate, they may speak an indigenous language or are too young to know their parent’s full names. In some cases, if a child is unable to communicate when they arrive at the shelter, the facility may not know whether they were separated from their parents at the border. These children will be classified as unaccompanied minors instead of as migrant children looking for their parents.
The Texas Civil Rights Project is currently representing more than 300 parents who are searching for their children. So far, they have only been able to track down two children. Natalie Cornelio, one of the officials with the organization, has lost hope in receiving assistance from the government. “Either the government wasn’t thinking at all about how they were going to put these families back together, or they decided they just didn’t care,” she said. Jerry Wesevich, an attorney at Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid, is also frustrated by how the government is handling the reunification of the families, saying, “you wait and wait for no information.” Wesevich is currently suing the government over the family separations.
Attorneys in Texas have taken matters into their own hands instead of fighting for government assistance. They are now calling the legal organizations, most of which are federally funded, that handle the children’s’ cases and giving them the missing children’s names. Due to the extreme numbers of children that these legal organizations are helping, their responses can take weeks. Goodwin and the team at the Texas Civil Rights Project have assembled a “rapid-response team” composed of volunteer lawyers from Washington, D.C. to help with the thousands of reunifications.
For a policy that doesn’t exist, it’s shocking how much irreversible damage the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance approach to immigration has done.