U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw earlier this week praised the government's efforts to reunify some of the more than 2,500 children who had been separated from their parents upon crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in advance of the July 26 deadline. Yet as of that deadline, 711 children ages 5-17 remain in U.S. custody. Another 46 children under the age of 5 also have yet to be reunited with their parents
The government says these children are "ineligible" for reunification for a variety of reasons, including that parents failed parental verification or criminal background checks, and, for at least 430 of them, the fact that their parent has already been deported.
The scramble to house these children after they were initially taken from their parents — with some sent cross-country to facilities in New York City, Oregon, Michigan, etc. — only complicates reunification efforts. Douglas Almendarez, 37, was deported back to Honduras without his 11-year-old son, Eduardo. It took him a month to learn that Eduardo was in a children's shelter inside a former Walmart in Brownsville, Texas. Almendarez and his wife still don't know when — or if — they will get their son back.
The government claims 120 parents waived reunification. But according to new affidavits in an ACLU lawsuit, some parents say they were coerced into waiving reunification or given documents to sign they didn't understand.
“I have personally interviewed rougly 90 parents who were separated from their children," Aaron Reichlin-Melnik, an attorney at the American Immigration Council currently working in El Paso, Texas, wrote in the affidavit. "In total, volunteers under my supervision have met with and interviewed over ninety parents who were separated from their children, including 52 parents who the government has identified as having relinquished their right to reunification. Many of these individuals indicated that they felt coerced into relinquishing their rights. Still others appeared totally unaware that they had done so. Indeed, some individuals were adamant that they had signed a paper that said they chose to be reunited with their children.”
Any sort of process — or intent, for that matter — to reunite the remaining children with their parents remains unclear. What is clear is that the crisis is far from over.
Reuters reporting contributed to this story.