Thursday was the court-ordered deadline for the government to reunify the remaining 2,531 children aged 5 or older who were separated from their parents at the border either before or since the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy went into effect. But almost a third of all children are still not reunited, according to government data provided in court filings. As of 6 p.m. EST Thursday, the government had reunited 1,442 children aged 5 or older with their parents in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody.
Officials from the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Homeland Security maintain that they have met the deadline to reunite all eligible parents with their children — but they are relying on their own definition of what eligible means.
Parents deemed ineligible to reunite with their children include 443 people who have already been deported. Another 79 children have a parent who has been released into the interior, and 94 children have parents whose location is “under case file review.”
Further complicating efforts to track the government’s progress was a sudden shift in the metric used to count reunifications. Government lawyers had been citing the number of parents who were eligible to be reunited with their children — 1,637 — but in Thursday’s court filing, the government switched to counting children. Some parents may have more than one child, so the new number of 1,442 children doesn’t actually tell us whether all 1,637 eligible parents were reunified with their kids.
Another 378 children have been released from the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the government agency charged with housing unaccompanied minors. Some of these children are with a parent released from ICE custody; others have been sent to live with non-parent sponsors, like an aunt or older sibling. But the government would not clarify how many have ended up back with their parents.
“The data is dynamic,” said Chris Meekins, chief of staff of the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response within HHS.
Children were bussed or flown from ORR shelters across the country to meet their parents in one of eight ICE facilities in San Antonio, El Paso, or Phoenix. From there, most parents and children were released to nonprofits. According to DHS, 223 families remain in detention together at eitherof two family detention facilities in Texas, one in Dilley and one in Karnes County.
Cover image: A woman identified only as Maria reaches for her son Franco, 4, as they reunite at the El Paso International Airport on July 26, 2018 (Getty).