Reuniting separated families: Why is it taking so long?July 10, 2018 8:24pm

HOUSTON (AP) — The Trump administration hit a court-ordered deadline Tuesday to return immigrant children under the age of 5 to their parents, forcing the government to roll back many of the family separations that resulted from its "zero-tolerance" border enforcement policy.

Last month, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw gave authorities 14 days to reunite parents with children under 5, and 30 days to reunite parents with all other children.

Here are some answers to questions about how the process will work and some potential problems ahead:


At least 2,000, according to estimates issued last month by the Department of Health and Human Services, which shelters immigrant minors under federal law.

On Thursday, HHS Secretary Alex Azar told reporters that the number was "under 3,000." That raised questions about whether the number had risen.

At least 34 children were to be reunited with parents Tuesday, the HHS said. That's less than half of the number of children under 5 the Trump administration says are covered by the court order.

The Justice Department said more than 50 separated children could be back in the arms of their parents by the end of the day.

The exact number of reunions will depend on whether authorities can confirm the parents' identities. Authorities gave few details on where the reunions would be held, and many were expected to take place in private.

Some families will miss the deadline. The administration says some of those parents have been deported, and eight have been previously released in the United States.


The parents who were expected to get their children back Tuesday were being moved to detention facilities close to the shelters where their children are, Justice Department lawyer Sarah Fabian said.

HHS has conducted DNA testing to confirm that the adults and children are related. The government is also doing criminal background checks on parents and potential sponsors.

There are significant disagreements between the government and the ACLU over the process, including whether DNA testing is necessary. The government says it should be the general rule, and the ACLU says it should be done only when no other evidence is available to prove parentage.


A handful of parents have gone to court. They include a Congolese woman who was separated from her 7-year-old daughter after they sought asylum in California. The ACLU sued on her behalf and expanded its lawsuit to broadly include parents separated from their children.

Many adults bring records with them to prove parentage to government agencies.

The government and the ACLU jointly filed a form late Monday that would be read to all parents in detention without their children. The notice says that a parent separated from his or her child "should not be pressured to agree to removal" from the U.S. to be reunited.

The notice also says that parents who are going to be deported can decide beforehand whether to ask for their child to go with them.


At the time that Sabraw set the 30-day deadline to reunite all separated parents and children, HHS said children in its care were spending an average of 57 days in a shelter.

Former officials in the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement say its system is accustomed to serving teenagers who arrive in the U.S. alone, often knowing the name of a relative who could potentially sponsor them. Now, some children in the system are too young to talk or struggle to answer questions.

The process also relies on coordination between HHS, which shelters children, and the Department of Homeland Security, which detains adults and initially separated parents and children. HHS says its case managers are working with ICE to link families.

But HHS acknowledges it's working with "disparate data sets." Azar has had to order an audit by hand of all records to confirm which children in his department's care have been separated from a parent.

Twelve parents with children under 5 have been deported already, according to the government.

That leaves the cases of children such as 1-year-old Johan, who appeared in immigration court last week , nursing from a bottle. His father has been deported to Honduras.

The legal group representing the boy said Monday that Johan took his first steps in a government shelter two weeks ago.


Galvan reported from Phoenix.

Page 1 of 1

More Stories Like This

FILE - In this June 18, 2018, file photo, dignitaries take a tour of Southwest Key Programs Casa Padre, a U.S. immigration facility in Brownsville, Texas, where children are detained. Immigrant children described hunger, cold and fear in a voluminous court filing about the facilities where they were held in the days after crossing the border. Advocates fanned out across the southwest to interview more than 200 immigrant parents and children about conditions in U.S. holding facilities, detention centers and a youth shelter. The accounts form part of a case over whether the government is complying with a longstanding settlement over the treatment of immigrant youth in custody. The facility operates under a contract with the Department of Health and Human Services. There, teenage boys described going hungry and not being given enough time to speak with their parents by phone. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald via AP, File)
Immigrant children describe treatment in detention centers
6 states and NYC sue US over immigration-related policySix states and New York City are suing the federal government, saying it is unlawfully forcing them to engage in federal immigration enforcement to receive anti-crime funds
GOP won't force quick House vote on Dem bill axing ICEHouse GOP leaders won't be forcing a quick vote on a Democratic bill abolishing the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency
In this Feb. 3, 2016, photo, Daniel Webb from the Human Rights Law Centre speaks outside the High Court of Australia, in Canberra. Webb opposes the Australian government's refugee policies. Australia drew a line in the sand on July 19, 2013, to stem a rising tide of asylum seekers brought by people smugglers on long and treacherous ocean voyages. No refugees who attempted to reach its shores by boat from that date forward would ever be allowed to make Australia their home. (Mick Tsikas/AAP Image via AP)
Australia succeeds in stopping migrants but many in limbo
FILE - In this March 30, 2016, file photo, Ibrahim Parlak, owner of Cafe Gulistan, speaks to supporters and friends at his cafe in Harbert, Mich. Parlak, who has been facing deportation for more than a decade, learned Tuesday, July 17, 2018, that he will be allowed to stay in the U.S. Parlak was granted a deferral of removal under the Convention Against Torture, an international law protecting refugees from being returned under threat of torture or death. An immigration judge ruled that Parlak's fear for his safety upon deportation to Turkey is well-founded. (Bryan Bennett/Kalamazoo Gazette via AP)
Judge rules Michigan cafe owner won't be deported
FILE - In this July 12, 2018, file photo, Republican candidates for Georgia governor, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, left, and Secretary of State Brian Kemp. shake hands after an Atlanta Press Club debate at Georgia Public Television in Atlanta. The two will face each other July 24 in a primary runoff for the Republican nomination. President Donald Trump endorsed Kemp over Cagle for Georgia governor Wednesday, July 18, just days before voters decide the contentious Republican runoff. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
Trump makes endorsement in runoff for Georgia governor

Related Searches

Related Searches