On June 20th, after widespread criticism, President Donald Trump announced that he would end the separation of families at the border, which came about due to his zero-tolerance immigration policy. However, the administration had no clear plan for how it would reunite families, and on June 26th, a federal judge ordered that immigrant families must be reunited within 30 days. That 30-day timeline has now passed, but more than 700 children still remain separated from their parents.
BBC News reports that, as of July 26th, 711 children had not been returned to their parents. Lawyers for the federal government reportedly said that the children were ineligible for reunification, stating that in some of these cases, the parents had waived their reunification rights, had a criminal record, or had a communicable disease. But the majority of these children — 431 — were ineligible because their parents were no longer in the country. And still other cases reportedly required “further evaluation.”
As The New Yorker notes, some immigrant advocates argue that the ineligibility “criteria” is suspect. Meanwhile, in a July 24th court hearing, a government lawyer failed to explain what “further evaluation” meant. The New Yorker also pointed out that in some instances where parents were barred from access due to “criminal records,” the criminal charges included things like driving while intoxicated and being “wanted by El Salvador.”
Michelle Brané, Director of the Migrant Rights and Justice Program at the Women’s Refugee Commission, told The New Yorker that she suspected the government was trying to “narrow the class of families” legally required to be reunited.
Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, told The New York Times that parents who signed away their rights to get their children back may not have meant to do so.
In response to the government missing yesterday’s deadline, the NILC tweeted that it had filed a Freedom of Information Request to obtain the records related to the reunification of families.
It’s heartbreaking to know that there are hundreds of children still separated from their families. If you want to help reunite immigrant families, you can donate to organizations like the NILC or the American Civil Liberties Union, contact your elected officials, or, if possible, attend one of several Families Belong Together protests on July 28th. All families deserve to be together, and we can’t stop fighting until these children are returned to their parents.