Reuniting immigrant kids with parents? Not so easy.
Washington – After a day visiting immigration facilities at the Texas border Friday, Sen. Richard Blumenthal said “there is no plan, there is no strategy” to reunify immigrant kids who have been separated from their undocumented parents.
Blumenthal said he visited a temporary shelter for migrant children in Tornillo, Texas that is housing about 250 migrant boys in tents, and a federal detention holding center in El Paso, Texas, where he said he was “haunted” by the eyes of a 2-year-old Honduran girl in the arms of her father.
He said that father and daughter did not know what lies in store for them, nor do other immigrants who have had their children taken away.
“There’s the same kind of chaos and uncertainty everywhere,” Blumenthal said.
Others say the Trump administration will find it difficult to reunite all the immigrant children who were removed from their parents at the border, especially since many remain in detention.
More than 2,300 minors have been separated from their parents since the Trump administration imposed it “zero tolerance” policy last month that called for the jailing of all undocumented migrants.
President Donald Trump signed an executive order Wednesday to end the separations, but it did not spell out what to do about the children who had already been detained.
Blumenthal said federal agencies “have a maze of conflicting rules” about how to handle the situation. He also said the agencies have different systems.
“And these systems have trouble talking to each other,” he said.
‘Kind of a mess’
On Friday, the Associated Press reported, citing an anonymous Trump administration official, that nearly 500 children who were separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border have been reunited since May. It was unclear how many of those children are still being detained with their families.
Some parents have told reporters that they don’t know where their children are and can’t get answers from officials. Some say mothers were deported without their children, the AP reported.
After a migrant family is apprehended by federal immigration officials, minor children are initially placed in a Customs and Border Protection facility, the places with chain link fences that look like cages in photos of the young arrivals.
The children are then placed under the care of the Department of Health and Human Services, which also takes custody of unaccompanied minors who arrive in the United States.
The Tornillo, Texas facility Blumenthal visited Friday is a DHS facility. The senator said the cost of housing the kids in tents at the facility is “exorbitant,” about $2,000 per child, per day.
“The cost in human terms are greater,” he said.
To offer better alternatives, DHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement has contracts with a number of nonprofits who find family member or other guardians to take the children.
One such facility is the Groton-based Noank Community Support Services, which has taken custody of one child who was separated at the border due to the “zero tolerance” policy.
Regina Moller, executive director of Noank Community Support Services, said the child is in the process of being returned to a parent who is not in detention at the border.
DHS says there will be no more children sent to Connecticut who have parents in detention, Moller said.
Her facility has also cared for a number of unaccompanied children from Central America, the place most of migrants caught at the border are coming from.
“These children have left their countries due to severe threats and violence from drug lords to them, to the babies of teenage mothers or to their family,” the Noank facility says. “They have witnessed murders and other atrocities that no child should ever experience.”
One problem in reconnecting the separated children with their parents is that centers like the Noank Community Support Services cannot release the kids to incarcerated parent, even as the Trump administration hopes a judge modifies a 1997 consent decree that will allow children to be incarcerated for long periods so they can be detained with their parents.
Aleksandr Troyb, past president of the Connecticut chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said reuniting immigrant kids with parents “has become kind of a mess.”
Troyb said he thinks that’s why “the Trump administration has been kind of coy” about the reunifications.
“This is sort of a whole new world now,” he said. “But it was completely foreseeable what was going to happen.”
John Jairo Lugo, an immigration advocate with New Haven’s Unidad Latina en Accion, said his organization has tried to reunite a few of the separated kids with family members in the United States and has been frustrated by a lack of response from DHS.
“They just want to break up families,” Lugo said. “And they want to break the souls of these people.”
With federal detention centers filling up, the Trump administration plans to use U.S. military bases to house the immigrants.
Blumenthal said, as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, he will “vigorously oppose that plan.”
“Adding to their burden these vast tent cities… would be intolerable,” Blumenthal said.
Reps. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, Jim Himes, D-4th District, and Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, are also visiting the U.S.-Mexico border this weekend to visit immigration facilities and detained children.
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