Trump Signs Bill to End Family Separation, Reunification Could Present Challenges
On Wednesday afternoon, President Trump signed an executive order ending the policy that has separated children from their parents when they have illegally entered the US southern border.
The new bill permits parents and children to await their immigration court dates in joint detainment.
However, children already separated from their families at the US-Mexico border have been transitioned into the foster care systems in states as far away as Michigan, according to the Detroit Free Press.
Nearly three months have passed since Attorney General Jeff Sessions declared zero-tolerance for migrants and refugees who enter the United States illegally. The separation of children and their parents or guardians has occurred in staggering numbers as a result. Detention centers housing these unaccompanied minors (forcefully or otherwise) have drawn focused media attention and concern since the first disturbing accounts passed by Sen. Jeff Merkley following a visit last month.
Unacceptable and inhumane. All Americans should know the cruelty that is being enacted in their name. https://t.co/77e90s0Wud
— Senator Jeff Merkley (@SenJeffMerkley) June 5, 2018
Still, Sessions and other Department of Homeland Security officials remained unapologetic.
“We will not apologize for doing our job,” DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said. “This administration has a simple message – if you cross the border illegally, we will prosecute you.”
“The children will be taken care of – put into foster care or whatever,” White House chief of staff John Kelly told NPR in May.
The well-being of isolated minors was further questioned after an audio recording of a child, captured by a whistle-blower, was released by ProPublica.
The family separation policy drew bipartisan opposition, and every Democrat in the Senate signed on to co-sponsor legislation which prohibits the separation of children from their parents within 100 miles of the U.S. border, with exceptions for instances of neglect, abuse, or other child-protection circumstances.
Bethany Christian Services, an agency with headquarters in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is contracted by the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services to take in children to their transitional foster care program. They have admitted 27 children, relocated to their agency from the US – Mexico border detention centers, since April.
Besides Bethany Christian Services, another Michigan organization with foster care programs, Samaritas, has applied for the permission to house 60 more refugee children in response to rippled effects of the zero-tolerance policy.
And across the nation, a foster care facility in Seattle also took in six children who were removed from their guardians this month.
“We then hope to reunite them with their families as soon as possible,” Bethany Christian Services CEO and President Chris Palusky told Detroit Free Press. “It depends on the status that they get. Do they get a refugee status? Are they deported?”
But the former head of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement John Sandweg says that there have been instances following relocation when children are not reunited with their parents.
Sandweg explained that a gap of time between the parent’s deportation and child’s deportation can lead to a loss of contact between family members, especially those who cannot access legal aid.
“Permanent separation,” Sandweg told NBC News. “It happens.”