Tuesday 19 November 2019

Trump has nothing in place to reunite families

Children will now be kept with their parents in jail awaiting prosecution

First Lady Melania Trump at a migrant detention centre in Texas, and top right, on her return to Washington. Photo: AFP/Getty
First Lady Melania Trump at a migrant detention centre in Texas, and top right, on her return to Washington. Photo: AFP/Getty

Colleen Long

US President Donald Trump's sudden U-turn on his controversial policy separating migrant families at the Mexico border has sparked confusion over how the new guidelines will play out and deep concern that the changes don't go far enough.

"We are pleased that the president is calling a halt to his inhumane and heartless policy of separating parents from their children," said Peter Schey, the lawyer in a lawsuit that resulted in a key agreement - the Flores settlement - governing the treatment of migrant children in detention.

Despite the president's order, Mr Schey said he was concerned that several thousand children have already been separated from their parents "without the Trump administration having any effective procedures in place to reunite children with their parents, many of whom have already been deported".

Mr Trump said he didn't like seeing children being removed from their families, a recent practice that has sparked worldwide outrage. But he also said "zero tolerance" on illegal immigration will continue and children will be held with their parents while the adults are prosecuted.

It remains unclear what will happen with the more than 2,300 children separated from their parents in recent weeks. Officials have said they are working to reunite families as soon as possible but have provided no clear answers on how that will happen.

"This is a stopgap measure," said Gene Hamilton, counsel to the US attorney general Jeff Sessions.

Protesters outside of a migrant children’s encampment in Tornillo, Texas. Photo: Mike Blake/Reuters
Protesters outside of a migrant children’s encampment in Tornillo, Texas. Photo: Mike Blake/Reuters

Justice Department lawyers were planning to file a challenge to the Flores settlement, which requires the government to release children from custody and to their parents, adult relatives or other caretakers. If those options are exhausted, authorities must find the "least restrictive" setting for a child who arrived without parents.

Justice Department lawyers will seek permission to allow for the detention of families until criminal and removal proceedings are completed.

Delaware Senator Tom Carper said he was concerned about whether parents can track down their children.

"I am also deeply troubled to hear reports that the administration, in its haste to hold innocent children hostage in order to demand funds for a border wall, failed to plan appropriately to reunite these families following their separation," the Democrat said.

Kay Bello of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service - one of the country's largest refugee resettlement agencies - said: "While children will no longer be ripped from the arms of their parents for the sole purpose of deterring immigration, they will go to jail with their parents. Jail is never an appropriate place for a child."

Meanwhile, New York mayor Bill De Blasio visited a centre in Manhattan that is caring for 239 migrant children separated from their parents.

Mr De Blasio said the children at Harlem's Cayuga Centre included a nine-year-old Honduran boy sent 2,000 miles (3,200km) by bus after being detained at the border. He said the youngest child is nine months old.

He added that he was shocked at the number children who had been separated from their parents.

"How is it possible that none of us knew that there (were) 239 kids right here in our city?" he said. "How is the federal government holding back that information from the people of this city and holding back the help that these kids could need?

"The mental health issues alone, they made clear to us, are very real, very painful."

Mr De Blasio said centre staff told him it has taken in about 350 children since Mr Trump's administration implemented its "zero tolerance" policy which calls for the criminal prosecution of all adults caught crossing the border illegally.

"It looked like the kids were being treated very well," the mayor said, but added several arrived with lice, bed bugs or chicken pox.

He will join other US mayors today in Texas to visit a childcare centre and denounce the migration policy.

On South Texas' border with Mexico, Manuel Padilla, chief of the US Border Patrol's Rio Grande sector, said the current situation for migrant children in the US "is not ideal" but the children are treated "very well".

"The ideal situation is for these children and family units to be in their home country in a stable situation," he said.

The lines of asylum seekers at some locations on the border seem to have dropped.

But two Guatemalan sisters aged 20 and 24 continued waiting on a bridge connecting the Mexican city of Matamoros with Brownsville, Texas.

Josseline Garcia, the younger sister, said she knew they could be detained indefinitely. But, she said, "we are waiting our turn, and hoping".

Irish Independent

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