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Offbeat Thousands of kids still haven't been reunited with their parents

02:05  29 june  2018
02:05  29 june  2018 Source:   cnn.com

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People demonstrate in Washington, DC, on June 28, 2018, demanding an end to the separation of migrant children from their parents. - US President Donald Trump urged divided Republicans on June 27 to support an immigration overhaul, though it appears doomed to fai, after a judge dealt a new blow to his © NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images People demonstrate in Washington, DC, on June 28, 2018, demanding an end to the separation of migrant children from their parents. - US President Donald Trump urged divided Republicans on June 27 to support an immigration overhaul, though it appears doomed to fai, after a judge dealt a new blow to his "zero tolerance" border policy by ordering that separated families be swiftly reunited. The repeatedly-delayed vote marks the umpteenth attempt by a deadlocked Congress to legislate a broad solution to the problem of illegal immigration, against the backdrop of a bitter political fight over the separation of migrant families at the Mexican border. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm / AFP) (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

Where are the children? And what's taking so long?

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That was the rallying cry at protests across the United States on Thursday as a growing chorus of activists and attorneys accused the Trump administration of taking too long to reunite immigrant families.

It's been more than a week since President Donald Trump signed an executive order claiming he'd put a stop to separating families at the border, and days since a judge ordered officials to halt the practice and reunite families that had been divided.

But since then, only a handful of children have been released from custody, according to the latest available statistics.

Devastated parents are still searching for their kids. Officials are pointing fingers over who's responsible and have yet to release details about how families will be reunited.

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Immigration attorneys and rights groups say that's because officials still don't have a plan to solve a crisis the government created.

"All we get is bureaucratic doublespeak, indifference and excuse-making," said Frank Sharry, executive director of the immigration advocacy group America's Voice.

Deadlines loom

As of Monday, 2,047 immigrant children who had been separated from their parents remained in government custody, according to the latest figures released by the Department of Health & Human Services.

An agency spokesman declined to provide an updated figure on Thursday, saying officials would only provide the total number of immigrant children in custody. That figure, 11,869, includes both children who crossed the border alone and kids who were separated from their parents.

On Tuesday, HHS officials told reporters they were working on reunifying children and parents as soon as practicable.

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"We have always known where the children are," said Commander Jonathan White, assistant secretary of preparedness and response. Officials are working on facilitating communication between parents and kids, he said, and linking records between different government systems.

The clock is ticking. A judge's ruling Monday laid out a series of deadlines the government must meet:

• Within 10 days (by July 6), officials must make sure every separated parent has a way to contact their child.

• Within 14 days (by July 10), children under 5 must be reunited with their parents

• Within 30 days (by July 26), all children must be reunited with their parents.

"The United States government has more than enough resources to get this job done as long as it treats it as an urgent priority," said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU's immigrant rights' project.

And in most cases, Gelernt said, the reunifications should be able to happen before the deadline.

"Up until now, the reason the reunifications haven't occurred swiftly is because there was no plan or intention to do so," he said. "We'll see how long it takes now that the court has ordered them to do it."

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  Parents and Children Remain Separated by Miles and Bureaucracy More than 2,000 children remain scattered across the country, including 300 in New York, with no clear path to reunification with their parents.Yeni González emerged into the warm evening air in Eloy, Ariz., her hair braided by the other women in the detention center. We’re braiding up all your strength, they had told her in Spanish. You can do it.

Gelernt, the lead attorney in the ACLU's lawsuit over family separations, says the reason it's urgent is clear:

People demonstrate in Washington, DC, on June 28, 2018, demanding an end to the separation of migrant children from their parents. - US President Donald Trump urged divided Republicans on June 27 to support an immigration overhaul, though it appears doomed to fai, after a judge dealt a new blow to his © NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images People demonstrate in Washington, DC, on June 28, 2018, demanding an end to the separation of migrant children from their parents. - US President Donald Trump urged divided Republicans on June 27 to support an immigration overhaul, though it appears doomed to fai, after a judge dealt a new blow to his "zero tolerance" border policy by ordering that separated families be swiftly reunited. The repeatedly-delayed vote marks the umpteenth attempt by a deadlocked Congress to legislate a broad solution to the problem of illegal immigration, against the backdrop of a bitter political fight over the separation of migrant families at the Mexican border. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm / AFP) (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

"There are little children who are being traumatized every day they're separated from their parents, crying themselves to sleep, wondering whether they're ever going to see their parents again," he said.

Moving goalposts

Across the country, advocacy organizations and lawyers are sharing stories of parents who are desperately trying to find, reach and reunite with their children.

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"It's a nightmare scenario," said Michelle Lapointe, acting deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The organization is working to help about 20 men held at the Stewart Detention Center in southern Georgia reunite with their children.

"Some have had no communication and don't even know where their children are," she said.

Others have phone numbers of social workers and have been able to make some contact. But each call gets met with a different response, Lapointe said.

"There's just no system. There's no one standard way of getting this information about their children to men who remain in ICE custody," she said. "It's incredibly difficult and it's incredibly demoralizing for them, and I can't even imagine for the children."

Even parents who've tracked down their kids are having trouble getting officials to release them, some attorneys allege, claiming the process isn't clear and rules keep changing.

"It's a seemingly constantly moving goalpost," attorney Britt Miller told reporters in Chicago on Thursday, standing beside a client who's suing the government to reunite with her son. "When she first came into the country, it was you're going to be released, and here's the 800-number to find your child. The 800 number got her nowhere. She independently found out and discovered where her child was, because the 800-number that they gave her, no one answered."

Natalia Cornelio, attorney and director of criminal justice reform for the Texas Civil Rights Project, told CNN this week that so far she hasn't seen any sense of urgency from Trump administration officials.

"The government began this process of separation with no plan, no plan for reunification, also no systems in place to track the parents and children and to ensure that communication happens between them," she said.

Without a clear plan in place, she said, it will be interesting to see how quickly officials respond with the judge's order -- or whether they appeal it.

"We just have to wait and see," she said, "but I do have hope I hadn't had before."

CNN's Tal Kopan, Nick Valencia and Christina Zdanowicz contributed to this report.

Congressman denied entry to California child detention facility .
California Republican Rep. Jeff Denham knocked on the door of a small child detention facility in the suburbs of San Francisco on Monday, but left disappointed. Demonstrators attend a march and rally on June 30 outside the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility in Los Angeles, California against the separation of immigrant families.

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