The US says more than 700 immigrant kids haven’t been returned to their parents

A family reunited.
A family reunited.
Image: Reuters/Jose Luis
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More than 700 children forcibly removed from their parents at the US border still have not been reunited with their families, US officials said today (July 26).

Federal judge Dana Sabraw of the Southern District of California had ordered all kids under 5 to be reunited with their parents by July 10, and those from ages five to 17 to be reunited by July 26. But the government’s efforts have been marked by chaos; agencies were only able to reunite about half of young children by the first deadline. Forty-six children under age 5 still have not been reunited.

Of the 2,551 families with older children, 1,442 have been reunited or “cleared for reunification.” ICE “has made a concerted effort and dedicated an extraordinary amount of resources to makes sure these reunifications did occur,” said Matthew Albence, executive associate director of ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations, in a press call.

Yet hundreds remain separated. In some cases, federal agencies deemed parents ineligible or unfit to take custody. In other cases, the government had already deported the parents while keeping their kids.

According to the government, a small number of parents actually waived the right to be reunited with their children. Albence said that all parents who were deported were “provided the opportunity to have that child returned to them.” He says that parents who were deported without their child may have chosen not to be reunited because their ultimate goal was to get their child to the US, at the cost of thousands of dollars in smugglers’ fees.

But dozens of parents were misled or coerced into being deported without their children, according to a new lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. Some say their paperwork about their children was taken from them, while others had no paperwork about their children at all.

Lee Gelernt, the lead ACLU attorney in the family separation case, said the organization will pressure the government to reunite deported parents with their children. Many weren’t properly informed about their options before they were sent back to their country, he added. “The US government should not be playing ‘Gotcha!’ with parents and children. Why would the US government not want to make sure that the decision is correct?” he said.

Immigration attorneys worry that some of the children separated by the Trump administration may never see their parents again.