The U.S. government accidentally just admitted it separated more than 3,000 immigrant kids from their families.
In a statement to CNN’s Nick Valencia on Friday, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said that it has reunited “approximately 500 children (over 15%) with their parents who had been referred for prosecution for illegal entry.”
BREAKING- U.S. @CBP says it has unified “approximately 500 children (over 15%) with their parents who had been referred for prosecution for illegal entry.” ICE and HHS are developing a process to be centered at ICE’s Port Isabel Detention Center to continue efforts
— Nick Valencia (@CNNValencia) June 22, 2018
Doing that math, it means that approximately 3,300 immigrants kids have been separated from their parents or older family members after they crossed the U.S. border.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions first announced a “zero tolerance policy” for undocumented immigrants crossing the border in April. A month later, he clarified that the policy would mean criminally prosecuting adults who cross the border between official ports of entry. Because kids can’t be held in criminal jail, the administration effectively made separating families its immigration policy. The kids were considered “unaccompanied” — even though in reality, they came with an adult — and sent into the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services.
Before Friday, the government had given far lower estimates for how many kids it had detained. On a call with reporters last Friday, Department of Homeland Security officials estimated that 1,995 kids had been separated from 1,940 adults from April 19 through May 31. On Tuesday, Trump officials said that 2,342 kids had been separated from 2,206 adults from May 5 to June 9.
The statement given to CNN’s Valencia doesn’t have a timeframe, but it is much higher than previous government estimates of how many kids have been separated from parents or other family members.
Earlier this week, the attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) estimated that 4,000 immigrant kids have been separated from their parents. There have also been reports of families separated before April, when the zero tolerance policy was announced, as well as reports of families being separated despite seeking asylum at an official port of entry.
The government hasn’t clarified whether the 500 kids who were reunited are still being detained with their families. A DHS official also told the Associated Press that the government is working to set up a reunification process for the separated families at the Port Isabel Detention Center in Texas.
It’s not clear what exactly the government’s plan is to reunite families. Despite Trump’s executive order on Wednesday to stop his administration’s own policy of separating immigrant families, government officials previously said that there was no plan to reunite families already torn apart.
Officials have said that parents have received a flier from ORR to help them locate their children. But many immigration lawyers told the Washington Post that their clients either haven’t received this flier at all, or that that when they do call the toll-free number listed, either no one answers the phone or they aren’t given details about where their kids are.
There are also many problems in the bureaucracy, with some shelters not knowing that kids they’re holding have been separated from their parents at all.
More than 10 Democratic members of Congress have called on DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to resign.