When Donald Trump directed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to separate children from their asylum-seeking parents at the southern border, we were horrified by the inhumanity of such an order, and more horrified still by the manner in which the order was carried out. Today, that horror reaches an all new level.
Last month Trump signed an executive order to stop separating families at the border, in response to the bipartisan hue and cry over the practice. However, no plans were made to re-unite the families who had already been torn apart, the children in hastily-constructed and poorly-managed detention centers. It took a court order from U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw to force the government to begin reuniting children with their parents. Judge Sabraw ruled that all children under 5 be reunited with their parents by July 10th, next Tuesday, and all other children by July 26th. As I noted in my post on Friday, the Justice Department planned to request an extension in time. Their claim was that they were doing DNA matching to make certain they reunited the right children with the right parents, and were also conducting criminal background checks on all the parents, as well as any others that will be living in the home. My antennae went up when I heard this, thinking that in all likelihood the record-keeping of the hasty separations had been so poor that they didn’t know where all the children were. I was mostly right.
Turns out, it’s the parents they have lost track of, although I will not be surprised when, at some point, it is discovered that there are some children whose whereabouts are unknown. When Judge Sabraw asked for a status update on Friday, he was told that 19 of the parents with children under 5 had been released from ICE custody into the U.S. and their whereabouts are currently unknown. Justice Department attorney Sarah Fabian said …
“For those folks, in some cases, for example, if we’re not aware of where the parent is, I can’t commit to saying that reunification will occur before the deadline. … We’re still determining what the situation is there and whether those are situations where reunifications may not be able to occur within the timeframe.”
But it gets even better, for 19 parents with children under 5 being held by ICE have actually been deported, and the Justice Department asked Judge Sabraw for ‘clarity’ regarding whether he expected those parents to also be reunited with their children. They had to ask??? The judge affirmed that they were indeed part of the order.
Judge Sabraw said he would agree to delay the deadline for reunifying the youngest children if the government could provide a master list of all children and the status of their parents. Sabraw ordered the administration to share a list of 101 children with the American Civil Liberties Union by Saturday afternoon. “What I’m expecting is a lot of work over the weekend,” he said during the meeting
The judge scheduled a status conference for 10 a.m. Pacific time on Monday. A government lawyer said she could not attend a status conference over the weekend because she had out-of-town dog-sitting responsibilities. Excuse me, ma’am, but I think the lives of 3,000 children may be of a higher priority than your dog-sitting duties???
I have to wonder what the Justice Department thought to do with those children whose parents were already deported, since they seemed uncertain when they asked the judge for clarification? But then, I found the answer … they intended to remand them into the foster care system!
On Friday, six state governors sent a letter addressed to Alex Azar, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and Kirstjen Nielsen, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The letter begins …
Dear Secretary Azar and Secretary Nielsen:
As governors representing states where separated migrant children are being detained, we write to express our growing concern with this Administration’s ability to reunify families in accordance with the federal court injunction issued on June 26, 2018. Given recent reports suggesting this process is being carried out chaotically and inconsistently, and in light of your agencies’ latest admission that hundreds more separated migrant children are in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) than were previously accounted for, we remain deeply concerned that wholly inadequate resources and procedures are in place to ensure children and parents are reunified safely and securely within the court-ordered deadlines.
The letter goes on to say that the responsibility for the children’s welfare and reunification with their parents lies solely in the hands of the addresses, and asks a series of questions related to what is or isn’t being done to ensure the children are reunited without delay. The letter is signed by Governor Jay Inslee, Washington; Governor Andrew Cuomo, New York; Governor Dannel P. Malloy, Connecticut; Governor Phil Murphy, New Jersey; Governor Tom Wolf, Pennsylvania; Governor Kate Brown, Oregon.
The letter was primarily in response to information that HHS considered any placement of a child to amount to a reunification — even if the sponsor wasn’t the parent from whom the child was separated, including a foster care setting.
Meanwhile, rumours abound that some of the children who have been returned have been in less than stellar condition, dirty and lice infested. And in one case, it is said that a sexual predator is an employee of the facility and has frequent contact with the children. I do not know how much is true and how much is rumour, so I make no comment on these, other than to say that nothing will surprise me at this point. The federal government has been an extremely poor steward over the lives of 3,000 children, as well as their families. We should be ashamed.