Four months after President Donald Trump halted his administration’s policy of separating immigrant families at the border, dozens of children remain in the custody of the federal government.
According to a recent court filing, 66 children, including one under the age of 5, are currently in the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) and are “ineligible” for release.
Fifty of those children were designated as “ineligible” for reunification because the federal government had already deported their parents.
BREAKING: Trump administration releases new number of kids who remain in custody after separations this summer.
➡️ 66 *still* with government, not eligible for reunification or discharge.
➡️ 1 of those kids is under 5 years old.
➡️ Parents of 50 have already been deported. pic.twitter.com/is45cORlH3
— Jacob Soboroff (@jacobsoboroff) October 16, 2018
Some parents were deported due to a criminal history of child or sexual abuse, but others had minor crimes on their records that would not necessarily prevent them from adequately caring for their child. The New York Times, citing immigrant advocates, previously noted that American parents held to the same standards would rarely lose custody of their children over such infractions.
A small number of the 66 children are scheduled to be reunited with their parents in their home countries, but if recent reunifications conducted by the federal government are any indication, the process will be a rocky one.
As HuffPost reported, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) recently transported a 4-year-old separated child from the United States to Guatemala without informing her parents of her return. No one was at the airport to pick her up when she arrived.
“Just imagining this 4-year-old going back [home] after months and months of separation…and then her dad didn’t show up after all of this,” Lisa Frydman, director of regional and policy initiatives at Kids In Need of Defense (KIND), an organization helping reunited families, told the outlet. “The trauma level is unimaginable.”
She added, “This case was an example of a complete failure, it’s totally preventable and completely in the U.S. government’s control.”
According to Frydman, ICE typically gives ORR staff a list of kids leaving the United States so that parents can be contacted prior to their return — but that list is only transferred a few hours before a child is sent home and is lacking in critical details, like the child’s travel itinerary.
Furthermore, ICE is not in direct communication with members of the steering committee, a group formed by the ACLU, tasked with contacting deported parents and finding out whether they want their children to stay in the United States to pursue asylum or to be sent home for reunification.
Stories like this are a reminder of how disorganized and careless the federal government is when it comes to the treatment of immigrants in the United States. And they’re particularly distressing considering the administration wants to do this all over again.
The Washington Post reported last week that the White House is considering a new family separation policy at the border. One of the ideas being floated, the outlet wrote, would be to offer parents the choice of remaining in indefinite detention with their children — “for months or years” — while the courts hear their case, or sending their children to a government detention facility separately, to await placement with another family member or approved guardian.
Simultaneously, the administration is preparing for an influx in immigrant children at its “tent city” detention center in Tornillo, Texas. According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), officials want to expand the center’s capacity to 3,800 beds — triple its current size.