Hundreds of children remain separated from their parents after family reunification deadline passes
Hundreds of children remain separated from their parents despite a court order that they be reunited by July 26. The Trump administration reunited more than 1,800 children separated at the U.S.-Mexico border with parents and sponsors, according to the Associated Press.
Yet immigration officials separated more than 2,500 children from their parents since the Trump administration announced a “zero-tolerance” enforcement policy in May. About 700 still remain separated from their parents.
Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller of San Antonio, Tex., said he was “extremely disappointed—but unfortunately not surprised.” Catholic Charities in San Antonio was one of four entities asked to collaborate with the reunification effort led by the federal government, he said in an email to America.
“We still stand ready to serve these immigrants and their families, because as this deadline passes, the crisis continues,” Archbishop García-Siller said. “We, and the larger San Antonio community, have done our part, but sadly—in some ways tragically—our expertise has been underutilized by federal authorities.”
“We still stand ready to serve these immigrants and their families, because as this deadline passes, the crisis continues.”
Catholic Charities assisted many families thanks to employees working “countless hours,” strong community support and donations, the archbishop said. That led to children seeing their parents for the first time in weeks if not months. Yet the number of families they helped was a fraction of the 400 they were told to expect, Archbishop García-Siller said.
In May, Attorney General Jeff Sessions vowed to prosecute everyone who enters the United States illegally under the zero-tolerance policy. He said children who enter illegally will be separated from the adult who accompanies them, whether the adult is a parent or a smuggler.
After public outcry, President Trump signed an executive order halting the policy of separating children from parents in June. U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw set the July 26 deadline for reunifying families a month ago.
“The administration has a moral obligation to make all of these families whole,” Kevin Appleby, the senior director for international migration policy at the Center for Migration Studies of New York, told America.
“The administration has a moral obligation to make all of these families whole.”
Mr. Appleby called it “astonishing” that the federal government would deport parents whose children are currently in U.S. custody. There is also evidence that some parents were coerced into signing waivers for deportation, he said.
“It’s disturbing that they were unable to keep track of what parents belong to what children,” Mr. Appleby said. “They’ve created this mess, and they need to clean it up.”
The administration has said some parents are “ineligible” to be reunified with their children, a statement Mr. Appleby said needs to be explained.
While there have been efforts to reunify families and end the practice of separation, the zero-tolerance enforcement policy remains in place.
“There’s no reason the administration needs to continue it,” Mr. Appleby said. “We should be using our resources for those who intend to cause us harm. Not on families. With a flick of his pen, the president could change zero tolerance.”
Bishop Joe S. Vazquez: “Children are not instruments of deterrence but a blessing from God.”
In an interview last month with America, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Tex., said such enforcement reveals “a certain lack of tenderness in our heart.”
“This whole reality has frazzled the community,” he said. “They just don’t understand it. The administration is using kids to get their [deterrence] message out.”
Bishop Joe S. Vazquez, of Austin, Tex., the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee, noted that traumatic impact of separating children from parents.
“Children are not instruments of deterrence but a blessing from God,” he said in a June 1 statement. “Family unity is a cornerstone of our American immigration system and a foundational element of Catholic teaching.”
More than 180 national and local organizations signed a public statement asking the Department of Homeland Security to reconsider plans to separate families last year.
“To threaten families who are fleeing harm and legally seeking protection at our borders with family separation in order to deter their migration is cruel and unjust,” according to the letter sent to then-Homeland Security John Kelly, who is now the president’s chief of staff. “Those same families who feel they have no other choice but to flee may now try any alternative available to the perceived risk of family separation, meaning they may well be driven only further into the hands of unscrupulous smugglers and traffickers.”
The zero-tolerance policy follows efforts by the Trump administration to curb both legal and illegal immigration. Last September, Mr. Sessions announced the termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, a policy that protected undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children from deportation.
In April, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen announced the administration would crack down on so-called loopholes available to those who seek asylum in the United States. Homeland Security has also ended Temporary Protected Status for U.S. residents from seven countries, including more than 250,000 Central Americans.
This article has been updated.
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