The family separation story that dominated headlines in June and July has now seemed to have fallen from public consciousness, at least in the communities not directly affected. But the crisis is far from resolved as the government failed to reunite hundreds of families it separated as part of its “zero tolerance” immigration policy.
And one critical question remains: how many kids are still separated from their parents?
The government has not updated the public — or the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which is representing migrant kids in court — in more than a month on the status of kids under the age 5. In mid-July, they estimated that 45 kids remained separated from their parents. (As of last week, more than 500 kids over the age of 5 are also still separated.)
Many of these 45 kids may have been reunited, but many might not have. Twelve parents had been deported without these children. The lack of updated information has advocates and reporters focusing exclusively on kids over age 5, saying 559 kids remain separated after a court-mandated deadline. In reality, that number could be higher.
The Trump administration missed its court-mandated deadline to reunite kids under the age of 5 on July 10, when officials only reunited four out of 103 children separated from their families. Officials faulted glitches and logistical problems. A few days after the deadline came and passed, officials told the ACLU that they’d reunited just over half of the 103 children. Those they hadn’t were deemed “ineligible,” at least for immediate reunification.
The ACLU hasn’t received an update on these children since July 16, the civil rights group told ThinkProgress. According to the most recent court filing, the group had requested an update since early August. Lead attorney Lee Gelernt said ACLU should be getting more information on this group by Friday, another court-imposed deadline.
A California federal judge and the ACLU (with the help of several advocacy groups) remain determined to ensure that officials reunite all the children the government rendered unaccompanied.
“I actually think the judge is in it for the long hall,” Gelernt told reporters on July 26, when the government was expected to reunite all “eligible” families. “I suspect he’s not going to wash his hands of it now. We hope he won’t.”
There are plenty of other loose ends. Like how long it will take for the government to reunite kids with parents they’ve deported, particularly if these parents fled their own government’s prosecution? Does the government intend to reunite families if parents have criminal histories? One parent was deemed ineligible for immediate reunification because of an “outstanding warrant” for a DUI. Then there are other reports from last month that remain unresolved: what came of the report that one U.S. citizen parent and child may have been separated for a year? And if parents paid for any part of the reunification process, as alleged in court filings, will they be reimbursed?
As of late, the weekly hearings between Judge Dana Sabraw, the ACLU, and the government are more centered on deported parents and parents who may have unknowingly or coercively relinquished reunification rights.
The government did release a detailed plan last week of its reunification efforts for the remaining separated families. But for the ACLU to help the government with these efforts — and ACLU and advocacy groups prove key to reuniting families — they need information, Gelernt has repeatedly said in court. The ACLU has asked the government to give them detailed contact information for removed parents by this week. An updated list on children under 5 for the ACLU would undoubtedly be helpful to the shared mission as well.