Trump Administration Has No Serious Plan for Family Reunifications As Court Deadline Approaches: ORR Officials

Human Rights

The Trump administration kidnapped thousands of migrant children from the arms of parents at the border and thrust them into the arms of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) with no plan in place on how to get them back to their families.

It’s been one week since Judge Dana Sabraw, a George W. Bush appointee, gave the government until the end of July to reunite separated families, and staffers from ORR, “the division within [Health and Human Services] HHS that oversees the care of unaccompanied children, have received no instructions on how to proceed,” Politico reports.

More than 2,300 children have been forcibly separated from parents in recent weeks. Under the judge’s order, the Trump administration must reunite children under five years old by July 10, all children by July 26, and connect all children with their parents via telephone in just hours, by July 6. 

But according to CNN last week, “only a handful of children have been released from custody, according to the latest available statistics,” and now HHS “is no longer providing the specific number of migrant children held in its custody resulting from the family separation policy,” NBC News reported. This lack of transparency should be fucking terrifying:

The urgency has taken a toll on morale in the refugee office, which typically deals with children who arrive at the border without a parent—not kids split from their families intentionally.

“It’s been really difficult to start the reunification process because we just don’t have a lot of direction from leadership,” one anonymous ORR official told Politico. “That’s been slowing things up, because there’s just been a lot of confusion.”

In a letter to HHS Sec. Alex Azar and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Sec. Kirstjen Nielsen—one of those ultimately responsible for implementing this barbaric policy—a group of U.S. senators called on the agencies to provide lists of separated children, their parents, and a “detailed briefing” on how they’re reuniting them. 

“We are deeply concerned by reports of chaotic attempts to reunify parents and children that have been separated at the border,” they wrote, also demanding “weekly updates and briefings on your progress until all families are reunited.” Donald Trump’s “hastily-signed order provided no clarity on how to reunify families, or how to handle families that have already been separated or new families that cross the border seeking asylum.” 

Meanwhile, ”Azar's assertion before the Senate Finance Committee that HHS can locate children in its care ‘within seconds’ was not inaccurate, HHS officials say”:

“Every person who crosses the border is assigned an alien number,” an HHS official said. “We can type it in and tell exactly where they are in ORR custody.”

But the refugee office has limited access to information about whether a child arrived at the border with an adult. DHS reporting that tracks separations was “spotty” as the zero-tolerance policy went into effect, but has improved, the HHS official said.

Detained parents are saying that they have no idea where their children are, writing in letters published by the Los Angeles Times they have have not heard from their kids, some for weeks now. One mom who was threatened with a Taser gun by an official for crying for her child said it’s been more than 23 days since she talked to her son. Additionally, some parents have been deported without their children. 

“I asked about my son and they wouldn’t respond,” she wrote. “I insisted on knowing and they told me, ‘Ma’am, your son is not here, he is far away and you’re being deported to your country.’”

This is a crisis created at the very top, as we keep marching to hold those people accountable, remember that this continues to be crisis until every single child forcibly separated by the administration is reunited with families, until the barbaric family separation policy comes to an end, until we stomp out family detention, and until the “zero tolerance” policy comes to an end. 

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