The government's master plan to reunite the migrant children who were separated from their parents upon arrival to the United States was released Saturday night. What's not clear is how the plan will speed up the process, or transfer the onus onto the government from parents, children, and their advocates. Meanwhile there are still some 2,053 children depending on how Trump plans to reunite immigrant families. The fact sheet released by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spells some of it out.
Under the "process established," parents and children may stay apart for weeks to come, or even longer. The updated plan follows the existing procedure, that reunifications will only happen once the parents' deportation proceedings are completed.
If the parent is ordered for deportation, they have the option to be reunited with their child first, the DHS fact sheet reads. But, "in the past many parents have elected to be removed without their children."
If the parent is found to have grounds for asylum and is released, it's even more complicated to get the child back. They can apply to become the child's sponsor, a process that can take weeks.
For any of this to work, it requires the government know where parents and children are at all times — even though they're in the custody of as many as three government agencies. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB) apprehends them, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) houses the parents, and children are sent to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which is part of the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS).
The fact sheet addresses this required coordination, but also reads disjointedly, with the protocols for the separate agencies listed separately. HHS's part of the release reads:
Minors come into HHS custody with information provided by DHS regarding how they illegally entered the country and whether or not they were with a parent or adult and, to the extent possible, the parent(s) or guardian(s) information and location. There is a central database which HHS and DHS can access and update when a parent(s) or minor(s) location information changes.
In another section — under ICE — it's noted that ICE has "implemented an identification mechanism to ensure on-going tracking of linked family members throughout the detention and removal process."
Trump's executive order to keep families from being separated last week did nothing to solve the situation for those who were already separated, save perhaps for some families where both parents and children were still in DHS care when the order was released. Any children not already sent to HHS would have been apprehended the last couple of days before the order.
Of those who were separated, so far only 522 children separated from their parents have been reunited by the government. Another 16 reunifications are pending due to bad weather.
Much of the fact sheet still reads as though its the responsibility of the parents, children, and their advocates to ask to be reunited. "The United States government knows the location of all children in its custody and is working to reunite them with their families," the release begins, before going on to list the phone numbers that parents can call.
The release says ICE has posted information in its facilities "advising detained parents" to call a hotline, "staffed by live operators Monday through Friday from 8 AM to 8 PM." Then, any information given to those operators will be "forwarded to HHS for action." It leaves the responsibility for starting the process with those affected by the policy.
Only then, it reads will HHS and ICE "coordinate a review of their custodial data to identify where each child is located, verify the parent/child relationship, and set up regular communication and removal coordination, if necessary."
Given all this, the "process established" likely won't speed up most reunifications. And it seems to make very few guarantees.