July 26 is the deadline for the government to reunite thousands of immigrant children separated from their parents at the border. Imagine for a moment the nightmare of hearing your child wailing, but not being able to do anything to help them, of not knowing where your child is, or if you will ever be reunited. This nightmare is a reality for thousands of parents. That’s because the United States government is currently engaged in a “zero-tolerance policy” that prosecutes migrants crossing into the country at the border as criminals. And as we've seen in headlines, that has entailed separating children from their parents.
The government was ordered by a federal judge to have reunified all of the families by July 26 — but as of July 23, only 1,012 children between the ages of 5 and 17 out of 2,551 had been reunited with their parents, Vox reported. Worse still, 463 migrant parents have been deported without their children, and as of July 26, the government has no defined plan to reunite their children who remain in detention on American soil.
The government anticipates that it will have reunited all 1,637 families deemed “eligible” for reunification by the deadline Southern District of California Judge Dana Sabraw imposed for reunification.
Despite the headlines about children being reunited with their parents, make no mistake: Far more families are still separated then have been reunited.
First, some background on how the policy even came to be. On April 6, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a so-called “zero-tolerance policy” at the border between the U.S. and Mexico, instructing Border Patrol and Justice Department officials to criminally prosecute every immigrant who crosses the southwest border without documentation, even those seeking asylum. He also declared that escaping from domestic and gang violence would no longer be grounds to legally apply for asylum in the U.S. — effectively breaking with our past asylum policies.
In practice, the policy has meant the government immediately removing thousands of children from the arms of their families, sending parents to federal prison and their children to detention centers. Still, even those parents who had heard of the new policy attempted to seek asylum. In a Define American interview with a mother at the border, she said that the decision to try to come to the United States was like “throwing a coin in the air because if you come, they might take away your child, but if you stay over there you could get murdered. So it’s like you’re between a sword and a wall.”
Some parents, separated from their children as a result of the new policy, have already been deported; some children, removed from their parents, have not yet been located; and yet more parents who remain in detention away from their children cannot afford expensive bonds to secure their release from detention in order to make their families whole again.
Although many families in detention were attempting to legally apply for asylum, bail bonds to secure their release during the adjudication process often cost between $5,000 and $10,000 — and many families are fleeing due to poverty and extortion already.
Let’s be clear here, this administration has slow walked, erected barriers, and flat out made the process of reuniting families incredibly difficult.
Despite a federal injunction demanding families separated at the border be reunited, families remain torn apart. MomsRising, MamasConPoder, Change.org, and Define American attempted to deliver over 130,000 signed petition signatures to the Department of Health and Human Services, demanding that the administration #ReuniteEveryChild, but the petition has fallen on deaf ears.
To date, the administration has blown past a federal judge's initial deadline of July 10 to reunite children under the age of 5 with their parents. As of this time, the most recent reports indicate that 57 children were reunited, with 46 left without being reunited from their families.
It’s now harder for asylum seekers to enter the country, creating new roadblocks to reunite separated families. When the government initially agreed to reunite detained children with their parents they agreed to allow third party validators in on the process. In reality, they have prevented third-party validators from verifying that the children were actually being reunited with their parents, the ACLU reported.
Being a parent is an awesome responsibility, loving a child is an incredible joy, and the loss of a child is an unspeakable trauma. Yet here we are as a country grappling with a horrendous truth, we have separated mother from son, father from daughter, in some cases with no plan or ability to reunite them. This is a moment when we can define “American” as a place of welcome and hope, or where it can be defined by the separation of families and internment of children. The contrast could not be more clear, and the correct choice could not be more obvious.
This op-ed was written by Kristian Ramos, a first-time father and the communications director of Define American, a media advocacy organization which pushes back on anti-immigrant hate and injustice in the media.