SAN ANTONIO—The first thing clients see when they enter Catholic Charities of San Antonio’s welcome center is a host of rosaries in myriad colors laying on the sign-in table — and a small flock of staff and volunteers ready to help.
Parents who have just been reunited with their children — after being separated, some for months, amid the implementation of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy — are offered food, clothes, toys, in some cases, hotel rooms and medical care, and are paired with background-checked volunteers to help them through the next steps of the process.
“We want them to feel like it’s a home, a safe space,” Christina Higgs, director of fundraising at CCOSA, told me as we walked around the room outfitted with a children’s table, an oversized Winnie the Pooh, a pink and purple tea party set, a play castle, and dozens of other toys.
Last week, the agency — which has been housing about 30 separated children and some parents between its three shelters — got word that it would be receiving upward of 400 families that were being reunited. Over the weekend, volunteers flooded the office to process donations and set up a command center, which president and CEO J. Antonio Fernandez said could receive up to 100 families per day. As of Wednesday afternoon, CCOSA said they had received 40 families — about one-tenth of what they expect — many arriving in the evening or overnight, some with illness or injuries from their journey or their time in detention.
Catholic Charities of San Antonio, Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas, Lutheran Immigrant and Refugee Services of Phoenix, and Sacred Heart in McAllen, Texas, were tapped as the four U.S. non-governmental organizations — all faith-based — to serve reunited families after their release in an effort to centralize operations.
Ruben Garcia, director of Annunciation House, said Monday the facility had received one family Sunday night and was expecting six more imminently.
“The pace of releases will increase dramatically in the next couple of days to where we may be looking at as many as 100 individuals, 50 families per day, that will come to us until all the families in the El Paso area have been reunited and released to us and the target date will be July 26,” Garcia said in a news conference Monday.
On Wednesday, Annunciation House upped that number, with officials saying they now expect to see up to 1,000 families over the next week or two.
The administration has just over a week to reunite more than 2,500 children with their parents following a ruling by U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in a suit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union. Process has been a point of contention in complying with the judge’s order: The government has raised concerns about confirming parentage and ensuring safety of the child within the court-imposed July 26 timeline, while Sabraw has accused Health and Human Services officials of using the timeline as “cover” for its own failings.
Sabraw’s order required that children under 5 years old, about 100 in total, be returned to their parents by July 10. In response, the government reunited 57 of the 103; 46 children under 5 were deemed “ineligible” for a variety of reasons — including that their parent had already been deported.
On Sunday, the government released a flowchart outlining the vetting process it conducts before releasing a child from the Office of Refugee Resettlement to their parent. (See fullsize flowchart here.)
On Monday, Sabraw ordered a temporary halt on deporting recently reunited families for at least a week to allow them to consider seeking asylum for their children.
Bekah McNeel contributed to this report.