Showing posts with label Illegal Immigration. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Illegal Immigration. Show all posts

December 23, 2019

Young Immigrant Doctor from Cuba Has Been Working as The Immigrants Own and Only Doc

Dr. Dairon Elisondo Rojas, a doctor from Cuba, treated patients in a migrant camp in Matamoros, Mexico.

Dr. Dairon Elisondo Rojas, a doctor from Cuba, treated patients in a migrant camp in Matamoros, Mexico.Credit...Ilana Panich-Linesman for The New York Times

By Miriam Jordan and Mitchell Ferman

MATAMOROS, Mexico — Under a canopy on the edge of a squalid encampment, a young physician named Dairon Elisondo Rojas holds office hours every day from 10 to 4.

On a recent afternoon, he saw children with diarrhea, colds, and asthma, among other ailments. Some he examined, treated and sent on their way with cough or cold medicine. For those who required special care, like a boy with a broken leg, Dr. Elisondo arranged a transfer to the local Mexican hospital.

Dr. Elisondo, 28, a native of Cuba, is the sole full-time doctor in the teeming tent city that has sprouted at the base of a bridge that connects the Mexican city of Matamoros to the United States. More than 2,500 migrants have squatted in the camp while their cases wind their way through immigration court in Brownsville, Texas.

He makes $30 a day.

“This is perfect, perfect,” Dr. Elisondo said in Spanish about the arrangement. “It’s what I know. It’s what I do best.”
So perfect he has not taken a day off since starting work in late October.

Like the migrants under his care, the doctor is stranded in Mexico by the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, under which asylum seekers who show up at the border are only allowed to enter the United States for court appearances.

He could be stuck in Matamoros for several more months, waiting for an answer on his immigration case. 

Dr. Elizondo, who has a specialty in critical care, has experience working in challenging environments thanks to Cuba’s medical-training program, which dispatches newly minted doctors on missions to impoverished allied countries.

After medical school, Dr. Elisondo was posted for nearly three years to a government clinic in Venezuela. With that country’s economy reeling, he witnessed close-up the suffering wrought by a shortage of medicine and food. He was recalled back home after he became a vocal critic of the government of Nicolás Maduro. 

“The government brought me back to Cuba, and that had consequences,” he said.

In his home country, he said, he was banned from practicing medicine and harassed by the police. Feeling persecuted and endangered, he and his girlfriend scrounged up enough to pay for travel to the United States to request asylum. They journeyed more than a month by plane, boat, and bus until they reached the southwestern border in mid-August.


ImageAngel, 10, broke his left leg playing soccer in the camp and was treated by Dr. Elisondo.

While Cubans for decades were allowed under a special policy to remain in the United States if they were able to make it there by land or sea, that welcome ended in the final days of the Obama administration. Cubans, who once may have traveled to Florida, now are subject to the same stringent immigration policies applied to other asylum seekers on the southwestern border.

“We arrived, presented ourselves and they sent us right back to Mexico,” Dr. Elisondo said of United States border officials.

Dr. Elisondo and his girlfriend got an apartment with other Cuban asylum applicants, and he found a job on the assembly line of a plant in Matamoros that churns out cases for cosmetics, he said.

Then one day, as he passed the ever-growing migrant camp near the international bridge, he spotted a big banner tied to a fence inscribed with the words “Medical” and “Médico.” Several migrants were talking to a person with a stethoscope dangling from her neck. It was a pop-up clinic opened in October by Global Response Management, an international nonprofit organization whose volunteer doctors, nurses, and medics have been deployed to places such as Iraq, Yemen, and Syria.

Dr. Elisondo said he was a doctor. Could he help?

“I thought, ‘If he’s licensed and credentialed, how could I not use him?’” said Helen Perry, the group’s executive director. She asked for his medical diploma and other documents, which he sent by WhatsApp.

After a two-day trial, said Ms. Perry, an acute-care nurse practitioner, the decision had been made. “Everyone agreed, Dairon is fabulous.”
Exposure to the elements, overcrowding, and lack of sanitation — there are few showers and the portable latrines are foul — have created conditions for illness to spread in the sprawling camp. Yet many migrants fear to venture far outside the camp, even to seek medical care because so many people have been victims of crime.

“Thank God for the Cuban doctor,” said Luis, a Honduran migrant whose family has been living in the encampment since September.

Luis, who like other migrants at the camp did not want his last name published, said he had recently taken his 9-year-old daughter to Dr. Elisondo for a chronic cough. The physician determined she had bronchitis and successfully treated her.

Inside a gray tent lay Angel, a 10-year-old from Honduras who had fractured his left leg playing soccer. Dr. Elisondo wrapped it in a splint and sent him to a hospital, where the boy got a cast that stretched above the knee. On Angel’s return, he found a set of miniature racecars awaiting him — a gift from the camp doctor to cheer him up.

On a typical day, Dr. Elisondo and a rotating roster of American volunteer health workers see about 50 patients. In addition to the camp’s residents, they serve another 1,000 migrants living elsewhere in Matamoros.

A handful of migrants with serious medical conditions, including a toddler with third-degree burns, have been allowed to enter the United States for care.

Dr. Elizondo treated Estephanie, 4, for asthma at the camp. Credit...Ilana Panich-Linsman for The New York Times 

Early this month, Global Response Management upgraded from a tent to a mobile medical unit, a gray trailer outfitted with fold-up examination tables, ultrasound machines, and equipment to perform basic diagnostic blood work.

Dr. Elisondo, who sports a neatly trimmed beard and a red T-shirt emblazoned with the group’s logo, has stabilized people who had epileptic seizures, appendicitis and heart attacks. But patients with upper-respiratory-tract infections, pneumonia and skin conditions such as scabies represent the largest share of his caseload.

With winter at hand, the clinic had been administering about 20 flu shots daily, until a shortage struck.

On a warm December day, Dr. Elisondo screened patients outside the trailer, with a bottle of hand sanitizer sitting next to his laptop.

Children on a rug in the open-air waiting area entertained themselves by leafing through “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” filling in coloring books and playing with toys.

Stephanie, a 4-year-old girl from Honduras in pigtails, had asthma, her mother reported, but she had not been treated for it since arriving at the camp. Dr. Elisondo listened to her breathing and determined she needed treatment.

To ensure that she received the appropriate dosage of medication, Dr. Elisondo fashioned a spacer for her inhaler out of a paper cup. Medical-grade spacers are expensive; the paper cup served the same purpose. 

“Look at me right here, O.K.?” he told the little girl, and then sprayed.

A 3-year-old boy in a striped T-shirt got one of the few remaining flu vaccines. Sitting in his father’s lap, he grimaced when Dr. Elisondo poked his right arm, only to break into a smile when the doctor stuck a ladybug Band-Aid on it.

Dr. Elisondo said he could not predict how long it would take an immigration judge in the United States to rule on his case.

He crossed the bridge to Brownsville for his first court appearance on Dec. 4. His next one is not until late February.

Though he has no lawyer, he hopes to win his asylum case on his own, learn English and begin practicing medicine on the other side of the bridge, in the United States.

Ms. Perry said that if his plans did not pan out, he need not worry. “He doesn’t know this,” she said, “but I am going to send him to other places in the world. He is highly trained.”

Miriam Jordan is a national immigration correspondent. She reports from a grassroots perspective on the impact of immigration policy. She has been a reporter in Mexico, Israel, Hong Kong, India, and Brazil. @mirjordan

May 17, 2019

2 1/2 Y.O. Migrant Child Gets Sick After Crossing The Border, The Child Died Yesterday (4 so far)

Image: Migrants cross the Bravo River at the border between Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and El Paso, Texas, on May 7, 2019.
Migrants cross the Bravo River at the border between Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and El Paso, Texas, on May 7, 2019.Jose Luis Gonzalez / Reuters file

By Associated Press
 HOUSTON — A Guatemalan official says a 2½-year-old migrant child has died after crossing the border, becoming the fourth minor known to have died after being detained by the Border Patrol since December.
Tekandi Paniagua, the consul for Guatemala in Del Rio, Texas, said Wednesday that the boy had entered the United States with his parent at El Paso, Texas, in early April. Paniagua said the boy had a high fever and difficulty breathing, and authorities took him to a children's hospital where he was diagnosed with pneumonia.
The boy remained hospitalized for about a month before dying Tuesday. The Washington Post first reported his death. 
(Pregnant Chicago woman found dead; baby found alive but in grave condition)  
Advocates have long questioned the Border Patrol's ability to care for the thousands of parents and children in its custody. The agency says it's overwhelmed by the surge of migrant families crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

April 25, 2019

3 Yr Old Migrant Boy Found Crying Alone on The US Border

 A three-year-old migrant boy was found in tears as he wandered alone in a Texas cornfield near the US-Mexico border, officials say. 
Migrant boy at border stationUS Border Patrol agents discovered the boy in the Rio Grande Valley near Brownsville, Texas on Tuesday morning.
His name and phone number were written on his shoes, according to officials.
"We believe the boy was with a larger group that ran when they encountered agents," the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) tweeted.
He was taken to Fort Brown border station, where he was supervised by agents while efforts were made to find his family, officials say. 
Border agents say they were unable to locate his relatives and he "does not speak well enough" to tell them who they are.
He has been taken to a processing facility in Texas, where he remains under the care of child workers.
In a statement, CBP told the BBC the boy was "abandoned by smugglers" who "entered the United States illegally".
Startled by border agents attempting to intercept them, the group fled, leaving the boy on his own in an overgrown field, the agency says. 
Border agent carries boy
A US Border Patrol agent carries the three-year-old boy in his arms
"Agents requested the assistance of a Border Patrol K-9 team in an attempt to search the field and, in the process, they located a child who was alone and crying," the statement says. 
He underwent a medical examination at a local hospital and was found to be in a "good condition" with no injuries. 
Until his family makes contact, the US Department of Health and Human Services will take custody of him, CBP says.
Migrant boy's shoesThe discovery of the boy comes as US Border Patrol agents attempt to grapple with the rising number of families trying to reach the US from Central America.
  The boy's name and a phone number were written on his shoes
On Monday, Mexico detained nearly 400 Central American migrants who were traveling towards the US border, according to officials.
The migrants, said to be part of a 3,000-strong caravan, were arrested during a raid in Chiapas state.
US President Donald Trump said the remainder "must be apprehended" and threatened to close a section of the border if they were not. 
What are the latest migration figures?
In total, 207,475 people have been apprehended on the south-west US border between January and the end of March this year, official US Border Patrol figures show
Of that total, 53,077 of them were families and 8,975 were unaccompanied children in March, the agency says. 
The total number of apprehensions rose sharply between February and March, from 66,884 to 92,607, according to the latest figures. 
In March, CBP said encounters of family units and unaccompanied children along the southwest border rose to numbers not seen since 2014. 
"We are currently experiencing a system-wide emergency in our processing and holding facilities," CBP deputy commissioner, Robert Perez, said in a statement. 
Trump speaking at a rally"The humanitarian crisis created by a massive influx of family groups and unaccompanied children in recent months has forced CBP to reallocate resources away from law enforcement, trade and travel missions to process and provide care for those in our custody."                               Trump threatened to close the US-Mexico border

How is Trump dealing with it?

Mr Trump has taken a hard line on migration across the US-Mexico border since taking office in 2017. 
Building a "big, beautiful" wall to stop the flow of migrants was one of his main 2016 presidential campaign pledges, blaming Mexico for "bringing drugs, bringing crime, their rapists".
His plans reached an impasse last year after Congress refused to give Mr Trump the $5.7bn (£4.5bn) he wanted to build the wall, leading to a government shutdown. 
But in February, Mr Trump managed to circumvent Congress by declaring a national emergency, allowing him to reroute funds from the military to the wall.
As president, Mr Trump has repeatedly threatened to shut down the border if Mexico does not do more to stop undocumented migrants making the crossing.
This Page is from BBC

January 27, 2019

Trump Has Had a Staff of Undocumented Workers But Fired Them Amid Showdown of Border Wall

 They had spent years on the staff of Donald Trump’s golf club, winning employee-of-the-month awards and receiving glowing letters of recommendation. 
Some were trusted enough to hold the keys to Eric Trump’s weekend home. They were experienced enough to know that — when Donald Trump ordered chicken wings — they were to serve him two orders on one plate.
But on Jan. 18, about a dozen employees at Trump National Golf Club in Westchester County, N.Y., were summoned, one by one, to talk with a human resources executive from Trump headquarters.
During the meetings, they were fired because they are undocumented immigrants, according to interviews with the workers and their attorney. The fired workers are from Latin America.
The sudden firings — which were previously unreported — follow last year’s revelations of undocumented labor at a Trump club in New Jersey, where employees were subsequently dismissed. The firings show Trump’s business was relying on undocumented workers even as the president demanded a border wall to keep out such immigrants. Trump’s demand for border wall funding led to the government shutdown that ended Friday after nearly 35 days.
In Westchester County, workers were told Trump’s company had just audited their immigration documents — the same ones they had submitted years earlier — and found them to be fake.
“Unfortunately, this means the club must end its employment relationship with you today,” the Trump executive said, according to a recording that one worker made of her firing.
“I started to cry,” said Gabriel Sedano, a former maintenance worker from Mexico who was among those fired. He had worked at the club since 2005. “I told them they needed to consider us. I had worked almost 15 years for them in this club, and I’d given the best of myself to this job.”
“I’d never done anything wrong, only work and work,” he added. “They said they didn't have any comments to make.”

“I started to cry,” said Gabriel Sedano, an immigrant from Mexico who was among those fired. He had worked at the club since 2005. “I told them they needed to consider us,” he said. (Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post)

Adela Garcia vacuums in 2016 before then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, in a speech at the golf course, vowed to keep jobs from undocumented immigrants. Garcia told The Post she was fired Jan. 18. (Mike Segar/REUTERS)
The mass firings at the New York golf club — which workers said eliminated about half of the club’s wintertime staff — follow a story in the New York Times last year that featured an undocumented worker at another Trump club in Bedminster, N.J. After that story, Trump’s company fired undocumented workers at the Bedminster club, according to former workers there. 
President Trump still owns his businesses, which include 16 golf courses and 11 hotels around the world. He has given day-to-day control of the businesses to his sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump.
In an emailed statement, Eric Trump said, “We are making a broad effort to identify any employee who has given false and fraudulent documents to unlawfully gain employment. Where identified, any individual will be terminated immediately.”
He added that it is one of the reasons “my father is fighting so hard for immigration reform. The system is broken.”
Eric Trump did not respond to specific questions about how many undocumented workers had been fired at other Trump properties and whether the company had, in the past, made similar audits of its employees’ immigration paperwork. He also did not answer whether executives had previously been aware that they employed undocumented workers. 
This Trump golf club does not appear in the government’s list of participants in the E-Verify system, which allows employers to confirm their employees are in the country legally. Eric Trump did not answer a question about whether the club would join the system.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.
The firings highlight a stark tension between Trump’s public stance on immigration and the private conduct of Trump’s business.
In public, Trump has argued that undocumented immigrants have harmed American workers by driving down wages. That was part of why Trump demanded a border wall and contemplated declaring a national emergency to get it.
But, in Westchester County, Trump seems to have benefited from the same dynamic he denounces. His undocumented workers said they provided Trump with cheap labor. In return, they got steady work and few questions. 
“They said absolutely nothing. They never said, ‘Your social security number is bad’ or ‘Something is wrong,’ ” said Margarita Cruz, a housekeeping employee from Mexico who was fired after eight years at the club. “Nothing. Nothing. Until right now.”

Adela Garcia and Margarita Cruz Carreon, who were fired on Jan. 18, talk with their attorney Anibal Romero. (Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post)
An employee-of-the-month award given to one of the undocumented immigrants who worked at the golf course. (Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post) 
An employee who was fired holds 14 years of pay stubs from his time working in landscaping at the course. (Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post) 
In June 2016, Trump gave a campaign speech at the Westchester club and recounted how he had hugged mothers and fathers whose children had been murdered by illegal immigrants.
“On immigration policy, ‘America First’ means protecting the jobs, wages and security of American workers, whether first or 10th generation,” Trump said in his speech. “No matter who you are, we’re going to protect your job because, let me tell you, our jobs are being stripped from our country like we’re babies.”
To document the firings at the golf course, Washington Post spoke with 16 current and former workers at the course — which sits among ritzy homes in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., 27 miles north of Manhattan. Post reporters met with former employees for hours of interviews in a cramped apartment in Ossining, N.Y., a hardscrabble town next door, whose chief landmark is the Sing Sing state prison.m
Among those workers, six said they had been fired on Jan. 18. They and their attorney confirmed the other terminations.
Another worker said he was still employed at the club at the time of the purge despite the fact that his papers were fake. His reprieve did not last long, however. His attorney later said he was fired that night.
The workers brought pay stubs and employee awards and uniforms to back up their claims. They said they were going public because they felt discarded: After working so long for Trump’s company, they said they were fired with no warning and no severance.
“Keep us in mind,” Cruz said, addressing Trump and the country.
The interviews were organized by an attorney, Anibal Romero, who is also representing undocumented workers from Trump’s club in Bedminster.
The Trump Organization has shown “a pattern and practice of hiring undocumented immigrants, not only in New Jersey, but also in New York,” Romero said. “We are demanding a full and thorough investigation from federal authorities.” 
The workers were largely from Mexico, with a few from other countries. Most said they crossed the United States’ southern border on foot and purchased fake immigration documents later. Many bought theirs in Queens, N.Y.
They said Trump Organization bosses did not seem to scrutinize these documents closely when they were hired.

In June 2016, Trump gave a campaign speech at the club in which he said he had hugged mothers and fathers whose children had been murdered by illegal immigrants. (Mary Altaffer/AP)

Uniforms that were worn by a worker who was fired. (Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post)
Edmundo Morocho, an Ecuadoran maintenance worker, said he was hired around 2000 with a green card and social security card that he said he purchased in Queens for about $50. The green card he showed The Washington Post says it expired in 2002, but a decade passed before the Trump club told him that he needed to replace it, he said.
Morocho bought a new card, he said. It had a different birth date than the first one, but he said the Trump club didn’t raise questions. The Post viewed both cards. It was unclear if they were forged or stolen. 
“The accountant took copies and said, ‘Okay, it’s fine,’ ” Morocho recalled. “He didn’t say anything more.” Eric Trump did not respond to a question asking about the club’s process for reviewing employees’ immigration documents.
Another employee — Jesus Lira, a banquet chef from Mexico — said that, on two occasions in 2008, an accountant at the Trump club rejected his fake documents and told him to go obtain better ones.
“She said, ‘I can’t accept this, go back and tell them to do a better job,’ ” Lira recalled. He said he returned to Queens a third time and found documents that the club accepted. Eric Trump did not respond to a question about Lira’s account.
The Post spoke to two former managers from the club about the employees’ accounts. One former manager, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the club’s internal practices, said the club relied on its accounting department to scrutinize the immigration documents and that the department rejected about 20 percent of applicants because of immigration questions. 
The other former manager said the broader Trump Organization placed far more emphasis on finding cheap labor than it placed on rooting out undocumented workers. The former manager characterized the attitude at the club as “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
“It didn’t matter. They didn’t care [about immigration status],’ ” said the former manager, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to preserve ties with current Trump executives. “It was, ‘Get the cheapest labor possible.’ ” The former manager said the assumption at the club was that immigration authorities were not likely to target golf clubs for mass raids.

Edmundo Morocho in the uniform he wore as an employee for Trump National Golf Course. (Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post)
At the club, undocumented workers said they resented the unspoken understanding that they would never be promoted to management. But many had fond memories of interactions with Trump family members, who visited the club for parties and weekends.
Sedano, the maintenance worker from Mexico, said he had a set of keys for a home that Eric Trump used at the course, because Sedano was responsible for taking out the trash there and making repairs.
Sedano recalled cleaning the railings one day at the club’s main entrance when Donald Trump approached him.
“He asked me how long I had worked there. At that time, it had been about five years,” Sedano recalled.
Trump noticed Sedano’s wedding ring. He handed Sedano $200.
“He said, ‘Take your wife out to dinner,’ ” Sedano said. “I’ll never forget that.”
Alejandro Juarez, a native of Mexico who had worked as a server and food runner at the club since 2007, said Eric Trump greeted him by name at a party in December.
“I was serving hors d’oeuvres,” Juarez recalled, “and he told me, ‘Thanks, Alejandro. Thanks for everything, Okay?'”

Margarita Cruz recorded the meeting in which the Trump Organization fired her. (The Washington Post)
The firings began about 10 a.m.
Cruz, the fired housekeeper, knew what was coming before she went in, because she’d heard from other workers who’d already been fired. She felt like the workers were sitting there “like little lambs, lined up for the slaughterhouse.” She hit the “record” button on her phone before her firing began.
Deirdre Rosen — an executive who identified herself as the head of human resources for the Trump Organization — began by reading from papers in front of her, Cruz said. An interpreter, listening in on speakerphone, translated her words into Spanish.
He translated Rosen’s statement that, after a Trump Organization audit, the paperwork Cruz submitted in 2011 “does not appear to be genuine.”
Then he translated Rosen’s question: “Are you currently authorized for employment in the United States?”
“Um, no,” Cruz replied.
“No,” the man on the phone translated.
Rosen continued: “By law, the club cannot continue to employ an individual knowing that the individual is, or has become, unauthorized for employment,” Rosen told her. “Unfortunately, this means the club must end its employment relationship with you today.”
Cruz told them she was a single mother with two children and asked why she had not been given some warning, so she could look for another job.
“The law says as soon as we know that you do not have authorization that we cannot continue your employment. That’s why,” Rosen said. As Cruz left, Rosen said, “Have a great day.”
Rosen could not be reached for comment.
Afterward, Cruz said she felt that — from one instant to the next — the Trump Organization had sought to transform her from an employee to a nonentity.
“We’re just working. How can they take our taxes, charge us for this or that, and not give us any rights?” Cruz said. “When they take our taxes, we count as people. Why don’t we count in other things?”
She said, “We don’t exist.”

“When they take our taxes, we count as people. Why don’t we count in other things?” Cruz said about treatment by Trump’s company. (Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post)
Alice Crites, Tom Hamburger and Philip Bump contributed to this report

July 13, 2018

Trump Administration Missed Court Ordered Deadline, What's Next?

The Trump administration on Tuesday missed its first court-ordered deadline to reunify families separated at the border as it rushes to confirm the identities of parents and match records of the disparate agencies involved. 
A San Diego federal judge had ordered the government to reunite all children under five years old by July 10, but as of Wednesday, only four reunifications had been confirmed.
Government attorneys and administration officials said of the 102 children under five who had been separated, 38 were expected to be reunified by Tuesday. Late Wednesday evening, an administration official told ABC News that they anticipate that as of early morning on July 12, they will have reunified all children under age 5 who are eligible under the court order for reunification with parents in the United States.
In a hearing on Tuesday, the judge acknowledged that not all 102 of these very young children could be immediately sent back to their parents - because some parents were deported without their children or had possible criminal backgrounds, for example -- but told the government that they must reunify 59 children.
A federal lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in February to reunite an asylum-seeking Congolese mother with her daughter expanded to a class-action lawsuit after the Department of Justice (DOJ) implemented its “zero-tolerance” policy of prosecuting all illegal border crossers.
In June, the judge ruled that children forcibly separated by U.S. authorities at the border would have to be reunited, laying out a timeline for total reunification by July 26, 2018.
“These are firm deadlines and not aspirational goals,” said the judge, Dana Sabraw, at a hearing on Tuesday.
PHOTO: Families separated under President Donald Trump administrations zero tolerance policy return home to Guatemala City, Guatemala, July 10, 2018, after being deported from the United States.  Collen Long/AP
Children waiting for reunification
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) determined that only 75 of the 102 children under five years old are eligible for reunification. Seventeen reunifications were pending DNA test results and there was one 3-year-old child for whom the government said it had no information about the parents.
The government now thinks that the child may have U.S. citizen parents and was placed in the wrong system.
Twenty-seven children are not eligible for immediate reunification, because of parental criminal history, pending criminal custody or other disqualifying factors.
“The court could not have been clearer that business as usual is not acceptable," said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. "The Trump administration must get these children and parents reunited.”
The administration has argued that they are working to meet the court deadline and the delays are necessary to ensure the safety and well-being of the children in their care.
“Our process may not be as quick as some would like, but there is no question that it is protecting children," said HHS Chief of Staff for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Chris Meekins. "The last thing we want to happen is that a child is placed in a dangerous situation due to a lack of a thorough review on our part.”
HHS is responsible for the care of about 11,800 unaccompanied minors who came into the U.S. illegally, including the roughly 2,000 to 3,000 children that were “made unaccompanied” when they were separated from their parents by U.S. officials.
Parents in custody
Most parents who were separated under the policy were placed into Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody. For the past two weeks, ICE moved parents to geographic locations near where their children were staying in shelters -- in order to facilitate the process, according to Executive Associate Director of ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations Matthew Albence.
“Mature parents with children under the age of 5 are being reunited with their children and then released and enrolled into an alternative detention program, meaning that they will be placed on an ankle bracelet and released into the community,” Albence said.
These family reunifications were planned to take place in the lobbies of undisclosed ICE detention facilities and released into the community, according to an administration official.
Meanwhile, the administration's zero-tolerance policy remains in limbo and has been at least temporarily dismantled in practice.
On June 20, after weeks of public outrage over family separation, President Trump signed an executive order aimed at both keeping families together and continuing to prosecute those who cross the border illegally.
Less than a week later, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) said it had halted referrals for prosecution until they figure out how to keep families together during the prosecution process.
“We need to end the catch and release challenge. A much better system would be to keep families together through their immigration proceedings. That’s what the Obama administration did in 2014, that’s what the president has asked Congress to help us do now,” CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan told ABC News.
The administration’s actions have created what could become dueling court requirements if the zero-tolerance policy continues. On the one hand, the San Diego federal judge ordered families reunified. On the other hand, another California federal judge on Monday upheld a decades-old court agreement, known as the Flores settlement, which requires that children be released from immigration detention after 20 days.
PHOTO: Immigrant families leave a United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility after they were reunited, July 11, 2018, in San Antonio.Eric Gay/AP
In early May, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) began implementing the zero-tolerance policy, and family separations began to skyrocket.
“If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions in May when announcing the policy.
Around 2,300 children were separated from their parents in one month between May 5 and June 9 as a result of zero tolerance, according to DHS officials.
For comparison, in more than a year between October 2016 and February 2018, there were only 1,768 cases of family separation by border agents.
However, at the peak of the zero-tolerance policy, only 53 percent of illegal border crossings were being referred by CBP to DOJ for prosecution, according to an administration official.
In order to comply with the court order, HHS had to hand-check all of its case files to determine which children were separated from a parent, concluding that there were ”under 3,000” potentially separated children in its custody.
However, last month, HHS Secretary Alex Azar testified to Congress that he “could at the stroke of keystrokes, within seconds, could find any child within our care for any parent."
Congressional Democrats on Wednesday again called on Judiciary Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley to hold an oversight committee hearing raising questions about inconsistent statements Azar made about the number of children the agency has in its custody, including the lack of a plan to reunite them with their parents.
This is their third request to Grassley for a committee hearing, contending that the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy resulted “in the traumatic separation of children from their parents.”
Grassley has previously shot down those requests.
"The simplest and easiest way to address this crisis is to repeal the Flores decision so that family units can remain in family residential centers and receive adequate care pending the outcome of their criminal or civil cases," Grassley wrote. "This is an easy, common-sense solution that doesn’t require a hearing."
ABC's Mariam Khan contributed to this story.

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