Chaos At the Border: Some Families Will Never Be Reunited

The Texas Civil Rights Project is a legal aid group that represents over 300 parents whose children have been taken from them at the U.S. border. So far, they have been able to track down only two of their clients’ missing children.

“Either the government wasn’t thinking at all about how they were going to put these families back together, or they decided they just didn’t care,” said Natalia Cornelio, with the organization.

Even though Donald Trump issued an executive order to stop his policy of separating adults from their children at the border, most of the over 2,300 children removed from migrant parents since May 5 are still in shelters or foster homes somewhere in the United States.  And the U.S. government is not helping with the reunifications, attorneys say despite the president’s claim on Thursday that he is “directing government agencies to reunite immigrant families.”

Without government help the legal aid attorneys are being forced to use their own improvised efforts to try to help find the missing children, some of whom are under four years of age.

Jodi Goodwin is a lawyer in Harlingen, Texas who has worked on more than two missing children cases for Central American mothers who have been detained without their children. So far, she has not been able to locate even one of her clients’ missing offspring. “It’s just a total labyrinth,” said Goodwin.

Government officials say they have helped by giving the incarcerated parents a piece of paper with a phone number for the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).  The ORR is in charge of providing shelter for unaccompanied immigrant children.

But Goodwin said that not even one of her clients had received one such a flier. In addition, Goodwin and other lawyers have said that when they call the number usually no one answers.

“You wait and wait for no information,” said Jerry Wesevich, an attorney at Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid. He is part of a lawsuit against the government over the family separations.

This week one immigration judge exploded at government prosecutors who took children from the arrested parents who “did not even receive a slip of paper” in exchange for their child. These judges are overworked with large backlogs, and the courts have no records of the children from parents who are arrested and incarcerated.

Bureaucratic errors can also mean that government officials are not even aware that a child’s parent is detained in the United States, because they are being treated as unaccompanied minors. Attorneys have found that many young children don’t speak either English or Spanish and have not been able to give government officials their parents’names.

In a nightmare come true, attorneys and former U.S. officials are now talking about the possibility of “permanent separations” because they fear the children’s parents will never be found and the families will never be reunited. “Some families will never be reunited,” said one lawyer.

Even though Trump’s family-separation program took months to develop they still have not been able to figure out how to reunite detained parents with children. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is handling the cases of each detained adult.  ORR is handling the children. And they don’t talk to each other and have no way to coordinate their efforts.

“We have to say, ‘We don’t know where your child is. The government is responsible for keeping your child safe,’” Wesevich said. “No parent would be satisfied with that.”

Goodwin said: “I tell them, ‘I’m not going to lie to you if I don’t know where your child is.’ ”

In short, chaos reigns at the Texas border, and the government doesn’t seem to even care.