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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

November 17, 2019   |   Ithaca, NY

Opinion

National Recap: Over 5,400 children split from parents at border

A new tally states the number of children separated from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border exceeds 5,400 since July 2017. U.S. immigration authorities conducted more than 1,500 of these separations early in President Donald Trump’s administration, according to a recent report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). 

The administration told its attorneys that approximately 1,550 children were separated from their parents between July 1, 2017, and June 26, 2018, after a federal judge ordered that children in government custody be reunited with their families. Of those separated during this 12-month period, just over 200 children were under the age of five. This includes five children under one year old, 26 one-year-olds and 40 two-year-olds. 

Since the judge ordered that children be reunited with their families, the administration continued to separate over 1,000 children.

Prior to summer 2018, the U.S. government had a lack of adequate government tracking systems. This made it extremely difficult for lawyers, activists and government officials to successfully reunite these children with their families. 

As of Oct. 16, ACLU volunteers working to reunite families failed to reach 362 affected families. This was largely due to nonworking phone numbers or because the sponsors who took custody were unwilling or unable to provide contact information for the childrens parents. Now, volunteers working with the ACLU continue their efforts to reunite children with their families by going door to door in Honduras and Guatemala. 

Earlier this year, the Trump administration also proposed a measure that would allow it to detain children traveling with migrant families indefinitely. The proposal would replace an existing agreement that puts court-imposed time limits on the detention of migrant children. The move received criticism from lawmakers nationwide. In August, a coalition of 19 states and Washington, D.C., announced a lawsuit against the administration’s proposed regulation. 

The Trump administration’s latest policies significantly risk the possibility of reunion among migrant families. A 2018 Associated Press investigation revealed holes in the U.S. legal system that would allow state court judges to adopt out detained children, granting custody to American families without notifying the childrens parents. 

Adoption cases of this nature are typically handled by courts at the state level, unmonitored by federal agencies. Every state court system runs adoption proceedings differently. This prevents federal agencies from tracking how often these state courts are given up migrant children for adoption, increasing the odds they will get lost in the system.