It was one week ago today that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) missed the court-mandated deadline to reunite all immigrant children under the age of five with their parents. It was, apart from Trump’s nomination of Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, the most important news story of the day one short week ago. The government had only managed to reunited some 50% of the children. In 20% of the cases, HHS lost track of the parents after they were either deported or released into the U.S. In other cases, the excuse was they were doing DNA testing to verify parentage, but the bottom line was that far too many toddlers were still left sleeping behind wire and crying for their mommies every night.
Then Trump went abroad where he ruined relations with our NATO allies, trashed our kinship with the UK, and sold the U.S. to Putin in Helsinki. And the plight of the children, probably to the relief of HHS Secretary Alex Azar, fell off the front pages and for a brief time, out of our minds. I awakened this morning with these children very much on my mind and determined I would do some digging to find out the latest status.
According to USA Today …
U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw said Monday he’s become “exasperated” by the Trump administration’s slow work to reunify more than 2,600 children separated from their parents, and he ordered the government to halt all deportations of parents for at least a week.
Sabraw scolded the Department of Health and Human Services for taking so long to reunite children in its care with their parents held in separate government facilities. The judge responded to a court filing by Chris Meekins, a senior HHS official who wrote that the judge’s order requiring accelerated reunifications was leading to “increased risks to child welfare.”
Sabraw tore into Meekins during a court hearing in San Diego on Monday, saying his claims were “deeply troubling” and “completely unhelpful” to what had been a mutual spirit of good faith between the two sides. The judge said Meekins’ filing appeared to represent an effort to deflect blame for any damage caused to children as a result of the government’s family separation policy.
The latest tally seems to be that 57 of the under-five group have been reunited with their parents, just over half. HHS claims that the others will not be returned to their parents, as the parents have been found ‘unfit’, most due to criminal records. There was a time I would have believed the government, but frankly, I no longer believe a word of it. So, there are still 46 children under five-years-old, living in detention centers under conditions that we do not know, for the media has been barred from touring those facilities.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a joint statement that the 57 reunifications show the government has done everything it can to comply with Sabraw’s order.
According to the administration, some of the cases that were not completed include:
- 11 parents who were found to have a “serious criminal history,” including charges or convictions of child cruelty, kidnapping and murder, making them a danger to their children.
- 12 parents who had already been deported. Sabraw agreed to give the government more time to identify those parents and create a system to reunify them with their children.
- 11 adults who are in federal and state custody on non-immigration, criminal charges.
- Seven adults who were determined not to be a parent. The government has been conducting DNA tests of all alleged families to ensure that children are not released to human smugglers.
- One parent whose identity remains unknown. The Department of Justice said the child, who has been in custody for more than a year, may be a U.S. citizen.
Sarah Fabian, an attorney for the Department of Justice argued against Judge Sabraw’s order to halt deportations, saying it would affect the government’s ability to maintain its pace of reunifications. She said there is a limited number of detention facilities where families can be held together and said they may fill up as deportations are on hold. Judge Sabraw appears to have run out of patience with the U.S. government’s bungling efforts and simply said, “That is not an option. The government will have to make space.” I like Judge Sabraw!
The next deadline, that to reunite the 2,551 children age five and older, is July 26th. Already HHS admits to having lost track of at least 71 of those parents, so the odds are that this effort will be as much a disaster as the prior one.
This was all the information I could find this morning, and it was about what I expected. We need to keep our eye on this ball. Yes, Donald Trump’s actions abroad are without precedent and are extremely important to the future of our nation, but these children cannot fall by the wayside either. What has happened to these children, these families, is nothing short of a crime against humanity and must be treated as such. Where we once welcomed immigrants with open arms, we now take their children from them and lock them away. This, my friends, is unconscionable.