Federal officials have been struggling to reunite immigrant children with their families as a court deadline gets closer. A dozen current and former officials, advocates, and experts have said that immigration agencies lack the resources or procedures needed to help the thousands of children who have been detained at the border get back into the arms of their parents.
Despite the July 10 deadline fast approaching, staffers at the Office of Refugee Resettlement, have yet to receive instructions on how to proceed with reuniting families. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, one official at the refugee office said, “It’s been really difficult to start the reunification process because we just don’t have a lot of direction from leadership. That’s been slowing things up, because there’s just been a lot of confusion.”
Nearly 2 weeks ago, U.S. District Court Judge Dana Sabraw ruled that the Trump administration had until July 10 to reunite migrant children under the age of 5 with their parents, and until July 26 to reunite those who are older than 5. However the refugee office still can’t answer basic questions about how many children separated from their parents are in its custody.
Just last month, HHS Secretary Alex Azar told Congress his department could find children in his department’s care “within seconds.” Officials say Azar asked for volunteers to review the case files of each of the roughly 11,900 children in custody to determine whether HHS missed any who were separated from adults at the border.
This review might reveal that the total number of children separated from their parents is greater than what has been previously reported by most news outlets. Azar previously told a Senate committee that his department had 2,047 children in its custody who had been separated from the adults they came with.
The urgency of the court order has taken a major toll on the staff’s morale at the refugee office, an agency that usually deals with children who show up at the border without a parent, not kids who have been intentionally separated from their families.
According to one office official, “I think a lot of people are frustrated. They just don’t feel like this is what our program was supposed to be doing.” The official also added that people in the office “are just feeling very overwhelmed” with the task at hand.
The order from Judge Sabraw put immediate pressure on case workers at the refugee office to calculate the scope of their task and how it would be executed. But so far, the refugee office has made little or no progress.
Under the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy, more than 2,300 children were separated from their parents during a five-week period. The policy sought to prosecute all people who cross the border illegally and made no exceptions for families and asylum seekers. The administration still has not made public statements about how many children were separated before President Donald Trump signed an order to stop family separations on June 20.
At the Sintsirmas & Mueller Co. L.P.A, we are committed to helping immigrant families protect their rights. Our legal team has more than 50 years of experience and first-hand knowledge of the how the immigration process works. Let us guide you through your case. Contact our Cleveland immigration attorneys to schedule your free case evaluation today.