The Office of Refugee Resettlement has identified 14 children who were separated from their parents at the border but who hadn't been counted as separated until now, according to documents filed in federal court Thursday. The 14 kids have not been included in any efforts toward reunification as ordered by a federal judge four months ago, and are living in government-contracted shelters.
The children, all over the age of 5, have now been in ORR custody since at least June. Seven are now eligible to be reunited with their parents; seven aren’t because Immigration and Customs Enforcement has determined they have criminal histories.
The admission comes a day after the release of a GAO report that found that Border Patrol agents and ORR case workers did not consistently track when a parent or child had been separated.
The overlooked children come as no surprise to the ACLU’s Lee Gelernt, who has been leading the organization’s lawsuit over family separations. “We will be asking the government for information about these 14 children, and will want to know if there are more than just these 14 who were never reported to us,” he said.
But the lost children call into question the Trump administration’s ability to carry out the “zero tolerance” immigration policy that included the separation of migrant children from their families.
Even if the children were not flagged as separated when they were first brought into ORR custody, case managers on staff charged with finding a sponsor should have noted that these children crossed the border with their parents and were removed from them. Children are also required to have twice-weekly calls with family members.
“There are many steps along the way where this could have and should have been recognized and flagged,” said Mark Greenberg, senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute and a former official at Administration for Children and Families, which includes ORR. “This is the kind of thing that happens when there was no original planning for ensuring that they kept track of when they were separating a parent and a child.”
The administration first submitted a list of over 2,500 possibly separated children to the San Diego court overseeing reunifications on July 16. These 14 children were not on that list, and it’s unclear what prompted their addition now.
“ORR regularly amasses new case management information in the ordinary course of program operations,” the filing stated.
ORR and ICE gave no further details on why seven children cannot be reunified with their parents other than to say the parents had criminal histories of some sort. In the past, a DUI has been enough to delay reunification.
Both ORR and ICE declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation.
Including the newly identified kids, 264 separated children are still in ORR custody three months after the court-ordered deadline to reunify all families. In the same filing, the government said it’s on track to reunite 47 more kids.
The rest are still considered ineligible, for instance if their parents have a criminal history or, as is the case for over half of remaining children, if their parents have already been deported.
Most of the deported parents have opted to have their children stay in the U.S. But 17 parents have not yet communicated that preference to the government. Five have not been contacted at all.
Cover: Immigrant children play outside a former Job Corps site that now houses them, Monday, June 18, 2018, in Homestead, Fla. It is not known if the children crossed the border as unaccompanied minors or were separated from family members. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)