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Reunions Are Elusive For Families Separated At The Southern US Border

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Reunions Are Elusive For Families Separated At The Southern US Border
The Trump administration says there's a "well-coordinated" process for reunification, but some migrant parents still haven't spoken to their children.
SHOW TRANSCRIPT

"I told the border patrol agent: 'I'd rather you deport me right now. But please don't separate us, please don't take my child away.' He told me, 'Ma'am, we're going to have to separate you and your son,'" said Iris, a migrant from Honduras. She traveled for 15 days from Honduras to Mexico with her 6-year-old son, Ederzo. She was separated from him the day after they arrived in the U.S. 

Mario, who is also a migrant from Honduras, said: "The first thing they told us is that we're going to be separated. She's going to say I'm a liar, that I left her by herself. It's hard explaining this to a child."Mario was separated from his 10-year-old daughter. When Newsy talked to him, he hadn't spoken to his daughter, Fabiola, for more than two weeks. 

Mario and Iris have something in common: They've been released from detention in El Paso, Texas, on parole after being detained for illegally crossing the southern U.S. border. But they've also been separated from their children without a clear sense of when they'll be reunited. They represent parents of the more than 2,300 children who've been separated at the border since May. 

The Trump administration has backed off of splitting up families detained at the border. And a California judge's recent injunction ordered that separated families be reunited within 30 days. That's setting a deadline on a process that's already been disheartening for migrant parents who can't locate their kids. 

Some minors picked up by border patrol have ended up at a tent camp run by the Department of Health and Human services in Tornillo, Texas. That camp was set up as an overflow facility.

HHS spokesman Mark Weber explained to reporters on Monday, June 25, that 11,800 children spend, on average, 57 days in the department's care. Weber went on to explain that within that two-month period, for some cases, the department spends time verifying family relationships before reuniting kids with their parents or a sponsor.

"There's a lot of safety precautions. You don't want to release a child too soon, too fast," Weber said. 

One way the HHS verifies relationships is by collaborating with consulates from other countries — like Mexico. 

"The HHS is an agency that works by itself. They only ask us for information when they need some sort of collaboration. They do the family reunifications themselves," said Marcos Bucio, consul general for Mexico in El Paso, Texas. "We help them by getting birth certificates and identification in case it's necessary." 

But when working to reunite parents and children, there can be a disconnect between expectations and reality. 

"While the children are in the care of the HHS, the parents are calling the shots," Weber said. 

"Ever since they separated me from my daughter, I haven't known anything about her. I haven't spoken to her. Not even my family knows anything," Mario said. 

Ruben Garcia, director of an El Paso migrant shelter called Annunciation House, said, "One of the concerns that we have is that a lot of our parents have a very difficult time understanding what's happening."

Parents were given a 1-800 number to call so that they could, at the very least, speak to their kids. 

"What we found is that that 1-800 number is kind of like a central telephone," Garcia said. "And so they took all of his information, and they said to him, 'We are going to pass your information to the facility where your child is, and then a social worker from that facility will call you.' And that could take up to seven days. And that's not when they're going to give you back your child. That's when they're going to start."

Iris said: "I'd like to tell the people who are thinking of coming not to do it. It is very difficult, what they've done to us. It's a torture for the parent and the child, for the mother and the father. It's like a slow death not knowing anything about our children, not knowing who has them, how they're doing or where they are. It's been torture every day." 

The Department of Homeland Security said in a June 23 release that Customs and Border Patrol had reunited 522 separated children with their parents.