The Department of Homeland Security responded to an NPR report from earlier this week alleging that the agency cannot find the parents of 545 minors separated from their adult caretakers during the short time the Trump administration was enforcing a “no tolerance” policy at the United States-Mexican border.
Despite their best efforts, DHS says, many of the children’s parents have refused a reunion, leaving the children orphaned in DHS’s care.
The policy of separating adults seeking asylum from accompanying minor children at the border began during the Obama administration, after a judicial ruling barring the Obama administration from holding asylum-seeking families for more than two weeks. The Obama administration reasoned that, if the families were separated, it would both allow immigration officials to extend the time adults could spend in custody and could deter families from seeking asylum in the United States.
The Trump administration adopted the policy as part of its “zero tolerance” anti-immigration efforts back in 2018 but ended the practice after public outcry. Hundreds of children, though, remain in DHS custody, according to litigation filed this week.
Department of Homeland Security spokesperson Chase Jennings was clear in responding to the lawsuit this week, calling the report “wholly inaccurate,” and pointing to evidence in the plaintiffs’ own filings noting that, of the 545 children yet to be reunited with their parents, a shocking 485 children have been left in DHS custody because their parents or family members “refused” a reunion.
“This story is wholly inaccurate,” Jennings said on Twitter. “In the current litigation, for example, out of the parents of 485 children whom Plaintiffs’ counsel has been able to contact, they’ve yet to identify a single family that wants their child reunited with them in their country of origin.”
DHS is trying to reunite the children with their parents or, if they are unable to do that, with family members, but that’s proving more difficult than anticipated, Jennings added in a later statement.
Full statement: pic.twitter.com/cpiQkUPVDt
— Chase Jennings (@SpoxDHS) October 21, 2020
“DHS has taken every step to facilitate the reunification of these families where the parents wanted such reunifications to occur. The simple fact is this: after contact has been made with the parents to reunite them with their children, many parents have refused,” Jennings noted.
“In the current litigation, for example, out of the parents of 485 children whom Plaintiffs’ counsel has been able to contact, they have yet to identify a single family that wants their child reunited with them in their country of origin. The result is that the children remain in the U.S. white the parents remain in their home country. The reunification process is a whole-of-government approach involving CBP, ICE, and HHS.”
The ACLU notes that, in some cases, the coronavirus pandemic has created an extra layer of difficulty for those seeking to reunite children with deported parents.
“The filing estimates that two-thirds of the separated parents are believed to have returned to their home countries. Nongovernmental groups appointed by the court have ‘engaged in time-consuming and arduous on-the-ground searches for parents in their respective countries of origin,'” the organization notes.
Efforts to press for reunification are resuming.