Pace of Reunification of Separated Children Remains Woefully Slow

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While the judge overseeing the court-ordered reunification of thousands of migrant children forcibly separated from their parents has called the process “very encouraging,” the fact remains that about 700 children are still not with their parents.

According to a Thursday court filing that includes a mandatory weekly status report, 1,923 children out of a total of 2,654 who were separated have been reunified, CNN reported. Of the hundreds who haven’t, about 40 are under the age of 5.


Nevertheless, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw noted that “real progress [was] being made.” But it’s a matter of perspective: Each day a young child is separated from their parents can cause lifelong emotional trauma, psychologists warn. This includes “anxiety, introversion, regression and other mental health issues,” according to The New York Times.

CNN noted:

There are 528 children in government custody who have not been reunited with a parent, including 23 who are under the age of 5, the filing said. For the first time, the administration also made clear how many children were not reunited with their parent but were otherwise released from detention: an additional 203, including 19 under the age of 5.

Those children may have been released to a relative or family friend or may have turned 18 while in custody. It is possible some have since reunited with a parent outside of government custody, but it’s not known how many have been able to do so.


The report added: “The filing also makes clear that the administration’s accounting methods are painting a rosier picture of the pace of reunification than the ACLU’s.”

About 412 parents were deported without their children, and the Trump administration says all but four have been contacted. The American Civil Liberties Union, on the other hand, says only 231 were contacted by phone or in person, according to CNN. A government attorney said about two dozen children had been sent back to their home countries to be with their parents.


All of this is extremely complicated. One issue that hasn’t been resolved, according to the report, is whether deported parents should be brought back to the U.S. or not. Another question is how the children should continue with their asylum claims.

Also on Thursday, the American Immigration Council and the American Immigration Lawyers Association filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General’s Office and the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, over DHS officials’ efforts to coerce parents separated from their children into signing documents that led to their deportation and which they didn’t understand.


The complaint states:

This complaint contains 13 pseudonymized case examples and original testimony from parents who were separated from their children that show a pervasive, illegal practice by DHS officials of coercing mothers and fathers into signing documents they may not have understood. The cases also demonstrate how the trauma of separation and detention creates an environment that is by its very nature coercive and makes it extremely difficult for parents to participate in legal proceedings affecting their rights. The direct consequence of the coercion is that many parents were forced to waive their legal rights, including their right to be reunified with their children.


It added:

Together these practices have resulted in not only the tremendous suffering of children and parents who have been kept apart, detained, and subjected to abusive, inhumane treatment, but also the involuntary, forced return of hundreds of people to grave dangers, including risk of death. As a nation we cannot tolerate such abuses in violation of our laws and we urge you to take immediate action to correct the situation.