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Official: Hundreds Of Kids Reunited With Families Since May

Immigrants from Guatemala seeking asylum look over travel packets as they wait at the bus station after they were processed and released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Thursday, June 21, 2018, in McAllen, Texas.
AP Photo/Eric Gay
Immigrants from Guatemala seeking asylum look over travel packets as they wait at the bus station after they were processed and released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Thursday, June 21, 2018, in McAllen, Texas.
Official: Hundreds Of Kids Reunited With Families Since May
San Diego Bishop Weighs In On Family Separation GUEST: Bishop Robert McElroy, head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego and Imperial counties

Our top story today, hundreds of faith leaders from around California are leading a protest march this Saturday. It will culminate at the border here in San Diego. Passions are running high nationwide as new stories break every day this week about children, even babies being separated from their parents as a result of the administration's zero-tolerance policy on immigration. Joining us now is Bishop Robert McElroy head of the Roman Catholic diocese. In the county that includes almost 100 parishes with mostly -- >> Why is it important that the leaders of San Diego's religious faith come together and support a united message. >> For 2 reasons, first of all this current moment represents a fundamental break with our moral conditions as a nation. When we embarked upon a policy, of purposefully separating mothers and fathers from their children. With the idea that this would provide a good deterrent effect on immigration. That we really have renounced, one of our fundamental traditions which is the centrality of family life in our nation. That is at the core of who we are as a people and who we have always been. And so, we are coming together this weekend, partially over this terrible moment that we are in now. That's in where this has been adopted as a policy and slightly changed in ways that there will still be a ripple effect upon families. The second reason we come together is the wider reason -- reason of reform. This episode points once again to the fact that we have to have comprehensive immigration reform. Which does provide security at the borders, and more importantly, security at the borders provide within the United States, a structure which discourages people, coming to the United States and settling illegally. That has to do with employer sections. The other part is giving rights to the and documents who have lived among us and worked among us and our neighbors and brothers and sisters, for up to 30 years. All of those elements need to be dealt with at one time. >> It sounds like you have a message not only for the Trump administration but for Congress at this point. And I am wondering, we heard the executive order this week that was supposed to stop the separation of families. He mentioned it was a change. What more needs to be done from the administration? >> One of the problems as we have more than 2000 children who are separated from their families. The trauma of the separation is not a momentary thing. One the great problems is if they get separated, as we are seeing, and everyone is scrambling around to try to find how do we identify where these children are aware their parents are? to try to link them back up. This is a great dilemma now that we have created. So that needs to be dealt with. Also, the idea that we will create massive detention centers and military bases where families will be held for long periods of time, is really repugnant. That is one of the main messages we want to point to as well. >> I wanted to ask you because U.S. attorney Jeff sessions has cited the Bible as justification for the policies. What is your reaction to that? >> First of all, whenever a policy is being enunciated which purposefully creates cruelty, it is not consistent with the Bible. Secondly, when the Attorney General cited St. Paul in terms of obeying the law, one of the great ironies of courses St. Paul ended up in jail and was killed by the government. So St. Paul did not say obey the law and all things. Of course, our fundamental predisposition as people of faith, is to obey good laws. We are not called to obey all law when it comes or it is horrendous and it has impacts on human beings. >> Sessions also said he did not anticipate the backlash that would occur as a result of the zero-tolerance policy. Grease the price at that? >> Yes, I gave a talk in January just at the time the Trump administration came in, in which I alluded to the spectrum. It had been raised to them and send reports. That the government might engage in a policy that would lead to the separation of parents and children. I said in that talk, that we face the specter of having our government forces, ripped children out of the arms of their mothers. At that time, there is terrible reaction to what I'd said. This is impossible. This will never happen in the United States yet here we are it has happened. The only reason, you can be that blind to this sort of moral boundaries being crossed, is when you are so intent on the policy goal that you are not looking carefully at the harm that is being caused by what you are pursuing. The notion, that those who are in favor of the rights of families here, are not in favor of strong border security is simply not correct. We cannot achieve, security for our borders at the cost of a pathway of cruelty as our nation as a whole. >> What do you hope to accomplish with tomorrow's protest? >> I think the role of the clergy on this, is to point to the moral depth of this question. The religious depth of this quest -- question. And say this is really a question of are we going to lose our soul as a nation? on issues like this? >> Bishop McElroy, thank you for being with us. >> I'm happy to.

San Diego Protests

The march Saturday will start at 1 p.m. at 7144 Otay Mesa Road and culminate at Otay Mesa Detention Center. There will be speakers followed by a candlelight vigil.

Another protest is happening Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Civic Center. Called the “Families Belong Together & Free” march. It is being put on by San Diego Indivisible.

About 500 of the more than 2,300 children separated from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border have been reunited since May, a senior Trump administration official said Thursday, as confusion mounted over the “zero tolerance” policy that called for the prosecution of anyone caught entering the United States illegally.

It was unclear how many of the roughly 500 children were still being detained with their families. Federal agencies were working to set up a centralized reunification process for the remaining separated children and their families at the Port Isabel Detention Center just north of border in Texas, said the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

The U.S. government was wrestling with the ramifications of President Donald Trump’s move to stop separating families at the border and Congress again failing to take action on immigration amid outcry from all corners of the world, with the images and sounds of crying children dominating the news.

The Trump administration previously had not said whether any hundreds of children who were separated from their families had been reunited. The official said many of reunited families were back together after a few days of separation. But other parents have said they don’t know where their children are and were struggling to get answers. Some mothers were deported without their kids.

RELATED: GOP Struggles To Salvage Immigration Bill, Postpones Vote

Meanwhile, there were signs that the administration was dialing back its “zero tolerance” policy, for now.

The federal public defender’s office for the region that covers cases from El Paso to San Antonio said Thursday the U.S. Attorney’s Office would be dismissing cases in which parents were charged with illegally entering or re-entering the country and were subsequently separated from their children.

“Going forward, they will no longer bring criminal charges against a parent or parents entering the United States if they have their child with them,” wrote Maureen Scott Franco, the federal public defender for the Western District of Texas, in an email shown to the AP.

In the Texas border city of McAllen, federal prosecutors unexpectedly did not pursue charges against 17 immigrants. A federal prosecutor said “there was no prosecution sought” in light of Trump’s executive order ending the practice of separating families.

But president showed no sign of softening.

The Trump administration began drawing up plans to house as many as 20,000 migrants on U.S. military bases, though officials gave differing accounts as to whether those beds would be for children or for entire families. The Justice Department also went to court in an attempt to overturn a decades-old settlement that limits to 20 days the amount of time migrant children can be locked up with their families.

“We have to be very, very strong on the border. If we don’t do it, you will be inundated with people and you really won’t have a country,” Trump said.

Thursday’s uncertainty resulted from the abrupt ending Wednesday of a White House-sanctioned practice of separating more than 2,300 children from their parents over the past several weeks. After Trump’s executive order, a host of unanswered questions remained, including what will happen to the children already separated from their parents and where the government will house all the newly detained migrants, with the system already bursting at the seams.

Officials from the Defense Department and Health and Human Services said the Pentagon has agreed to provide space on military bases to hold up to 20,000 people detained after illegally crossing the Mexican border.

It was unclear which bases would be used. But HHS has assessed four as prospective housing for children: Fort Bliss, Goodfellow Air Force Base and Dyess Air Force Base in Texas, and Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas.

The Justice Department asked a federal judge to change the rules regarding the detention of immigrant children, seeking permission to detain them for longer than the permitted 20 days in an effort to keep them together with their parents.

Meanwhile, the mayors of about 20 U.S. cities gathered at a holding facility for immigrant children in the border city of El Paso. They accused Trump of failing to address a crisis of his own making and called for the immediate reunification of immigrant children with their families.

“This is a humanitarian crisis,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said.

In Washington, the House killed a hard-right immigration bill Thursday and Republican leaders delayed a planned vote on a compromise GOP package, with party members fiercely divided on the issue. Democrats oppose both measures.

The rejected bill would have curbed legal immigration and bolstered border security but would not have granted a pathway to citizenship to “Dreamers” who arrived in the country illegally as children.

The delayed vote was on a compromise bill between GOP moderates and conservatives that would offer Dreamers a pathway to citizenship and provide $25 billion for Trump’s border wall, among other things.

Elsewhere, Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia ordered an investigation into claims by children at an immigration detention facility that they were beaten while handcuffed and locked up for long periods in solitary confinement, left nude and shivering in concrete cells.

First lady Melania Trump made a surprise visit to a McAllen detention center that is housing some of the children. She told the children to “be kind and nice to each other.”

She made waves while boarding the flight to McAllen in a green military-style jacket with the message “I really don’t care, do u?” on the back.

Asked about it, her spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said: “It’s a jacket. There was no hidden message.”

Mrs. Trump was wearing a different jacket when the plane landed.