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Reunification Prospects Unclear For Freed Immigrant Parents

A demonstrator holds up a sign during a protest against the Trump administration's immigration policy at the Otay Mesa Immigration and Detention Facility in San Diego, June 22, 2018.
Jade Hindmon
A demonstrator holds up a sign during a protest against the Trump administration's immigration policy at the Otay Mesa Immigration and Detention Facility in San Diego, June 22, 2018.
Reunification Prospects Unclear For Freed Immigrant Parents
Reunification Prospects Unclear For Freed Immigrant Parents GUESTS: Julie Small, reporter, KQED Elizabeth Camarena, associate director, Casa Cornelia

Our top story on Midday Edition, a federal judge in San Diego is ordering the government to speed up its response in a lawsuit of Reno vacation of immigrant families. On Friday the ACLU asked for a court order for you reunification of children separated from two parents who entered the country illegally. The suit asked that children be restored to parents within 10 days to a month depending on the age of the child. The government was ordered this morning to respond by 9 AM tomorrow. U.S. District Court Judge Dana Subra is asking for the speed up citing the urgent nature of the motions currently pending before the court. Joining me is Julie small KQED reporter who is covering the lawsuit for the California report. She joins us from Carlsbad. Give us some background if you will on the request by the ACLU. Is this actually an extension of a lawsuit filed earlier this month against the family separation policy ? >> This lawsuit was filed in February. February -- family separations were increasing under the Trump administration before they introduced the formal zero-tolerance policy where they decided to prosecute anybody and everybody who comes over the border and is suspected to be here illegally. >>> We have a soundbite from ACLU attorney on why speedy reunification's are necessary . >> children are crying themselves to sleep in cleaning two pictures of themselves -- parents. Some kids are just babies less than a year old. >>> That is the argument from the ACLU. What is the government's position. We have been hearing reports that there is no system in place that would be able to accomplish expedited family reunification's. >> The government over the weekend over extreme public scrutiny issued a statement outlining all of the things they have done so far and sending the message that they have reunified 525 children last week and they have plans to reunify the 2000 other children who have been separated from their parents. They touted the various things they have done to help people communicate with each other. They are trying to give assurances, we wondered if it was a way to get ahead of the lawsuit and the filing second today. The timing of it is could be because of so much public outcry. >>> Our current facilities were parents are detained, are they able to accommodate young children ? >> No. Many of them are not. There are three detention facilities that can accommodate children. Other facilities, it is not appropriate for children to be in there with adults. That is what makes this whole thing. It is a policy but can it be carried out ? we have seen a lot of confusion initially the border patrol that said we are going to stop prosecuting families because we don't have facilities were parents can stay with their kids. Were going to stop prosecuting them. The department of justice said no we are still Prosecuting. That there is actually no place to put these people. We are hoping to be done throughout the week to find out what is happening to people trying to cross now. Are they being detained? Maybe not. The real focus of this lawsuit that the ACLU is looking at is to make sure that all children separated now and parents come together quickly. Also going forward, the government has to have very good reasons to separate a child from the parent. They cannot just do it because they suspect the parent of the child is not the parent of the child. It has to be a rare occurrence. >>> What is the judge's decision on this one is it expected ? the fact that the judge moved up the deadline for the government may indicate to me that he is at least getting ready to roll this week. He said he might. I think he might push up the deadline for the government. We might see something on Wednesday. >>> Is the government expected to repeal if they go against it? >> I would guess so. >>> I've been speaking with Julie small. Thank you. >> Thank you, Maureen.

A Texas charitable organization says 32 immigrant parents separated from their children after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border were freed into its care Sunday, but they don't know where their kids are or when they might see them again despite government assurances that family reunification would be well organized.

The release is believed to be the first, large one of its kind since President Donald Trump signed an executive order Wednesday that preserved a "zero-tolerance" policy for entering the country illegally but ended the practice of separating immigrant parents and children. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement offered no immediate comment.

Ruben Garcia, director of Annunciation House in El Paso, said the group of both mothers and fathers includes some from Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras who arrived to his group after federal authorities withdrew criminal charges for illegal entry. He didn't release names or personal details to protect the parents' privacy, and Homeland Security officials said they needed more specifics in order to check out their cases.

A Saturday night fact sheet by the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies said authorities know the location of all children in custody after separating them from their families at the border and are working to reunite them. It called the reunification process "well coordinated."

It also said parents must request that their child be deported with them. In the past, the fact sheet says, many parents elected to be deported without their children. That may be a reflection of violence or persecution they face in their home countries.

It doesn't state how long it might take to reunite families. Texas' Port Isabel Service Processing Center has been set up as the staging ground for the families to be reunited prior to deportation.

How the government would reunite families has been unclear because they are first stopped by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, with children taken into custody by the Department of Health and Human Services and adults detained through ICE, which is under the Department of Homeland Security. Children have been sent to far-flung shelters around the country, raising alarm that parents might never know where their children can be found.

At least 2,053 minors who were separated at the border were being cared for in HHS-funded facilities, the fact sheet said.

The chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee hedged Sunday when pressed on whether he was confident the Trump administration knows where all the children are and will be able to reunite them with their parents.

"That is what they're claiming," Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said on CNN's "State of the Union."

The fact sheet states that ICE has implemented an identification mechanism to ensure ongoing tracking of linked family members throughout the detention and removal process; designated detention locations for separated parents and will enhance current processes to ensure communication with children in HHS custody; worked closely with foreign consulates to ensure that travel documents are issued for both the parent and child at time of removal; and coordinated with HHS for the reuniting of the child prior to the parents' departure from the U.S.

As part of the effort, ICE officials have posted notices in all its facilities advising detained parents who are trying to find or communicate with their children to call a hotline staffed 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday.

A parent or guardian trying to determine if a child is in the custody of HHS should contact the Office of Refugee Resettlement National Call Center at 1-800-203-7001, or via email at information@ORRNCC.com. Information will be collected and sent to an HHS-funded facility where a minor is located.

But it's unclear whether detained parents have access to computers to send an email, or how their phone systems work to call out. Attorneys at the border have said they have been frantically trying to locate information about the children on behalf of their clients.

Garcia, the Annunciation House director, said his experience has been that telephone contact doesn't provide any information.

"If we bring in 30 cellphones, they're going to call that number, they're not going to reach 30 children," said Garcia, whose organization has been working with federal authorities to assist immigrants for 40 years. "Actually (they're) not going to be able to give them any information on what to expect."

Customs and Border Patrol said it had reunited 522 children and that some were never taken into custody by Health and Human Services because their parents' criminal cases were processed too quickly. Officials have said as many as 2,300 children had been separated from the time the policy began until June 9. It's not clear if any of the 2,000 remaining children were taken into custody after June 9.

The "zero-tolerance policy" of criminally prosecuting anyone caught illegally crossing the border remains in effect, officials have said, despite confusion on the ground on how to carry out Trump's order. Justice Department officials asked a federal judge to amend a class-action settlement that governs how children are treated in immigration custody. Right now, children can only be detained with their families for 20 days; Trump officials are seeking to detain them together indefinitely as their cases progress. Advocates say family detention does not solve the problem.