The Trump administration’s decision to criminally prosecute all adults crossing the southern border led to the separation of more than 2,600 children from their parents or other adults this spring. After President Trump halted the separations on June 20, a federal judge ordered the government to reunite all children under age 5 with their families by July 12 and all older children by July 26.
Percentage of children reunited or released
*This chart does not include the 103 children under the age of five. Consistent data is not available for that group.
The government, which did not have a reunification plan in place at the time of the judge’s order, says it is returning all children whose parents have been located and cleared through background checks, although parents who have been deported could elect to have their children remain in the United States to pursue asylum on their own. As of , children remain stripped from their parents or guardians and in government custody -- of them children aged 4 and younger.
“The reality is, for every parent who is not located, there will be a permanently orphaned child, and that is 100 percent the responsibility of the administration,” U.S. District Judge Dana M. Sabraw told the federal government at an Aug. 3 hearing about reunifying separated families.
Below, we break down the reasons the remaining children are still separated from their families.
Reunited or released from government custody
The government counts a child in this category if they have been reunited with their parents, released to another family member or sponsor, or have turned 18 since being placed in government custody.
Parent is presently outside the U.S.
The largest group of children yet to be reunited consists of those who crossed the border with adults who have since left the U.S. voluntarily or were deported.
The government says dozens of these parents’ children have asked to voluntarily depart the U.S. in order to be reunified with their families, but that process has been slowed, for now, by various court orders.
Parent is in government custody
The parents of these children are currently in federal, state or local custody, in some cases for minor or years-old offenses.
Parent indicated desire against reunification or waived reunification rights
Another group is children whose parents indicated a desire not to reunify with them, presumably so the children can pursue asylum claims on their own inside the United States. This category appears to include adults who the government says waived their right to reunification, as well as others who have since told lawyers they do not want to be reunified. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which brought the lawsuit that led to the reunification order, has filed court papers alleging that many parents signed forms waiving their reunification rights while separated from their children and under duress or without understanding them.
Red flag triggered by a background check or parentage concerns
“Red flags” from background checks on parents could include things such as criminal histories, abuse allegations or smaller civil offenses. Red flags can also be triggered by questions about the relationship between the adult and child, including waiting for pending DNA results or the need for additional documentation of their parental relationship.
About this story
Data was collected from weekly joint status reports containing information from the Department of Health and Human Services that were filed with the U.S. District Court of Southern California. The total number of children in each category may add up to more than the number of separated children because parents may be classified in more than category (e.g., both waived reunification rights and were deported).
On Aug. 17, numbers in this graphic were updated to include 103 “tender-age” children under the age of 5, for whom up-to-date data was previously unavailable.
Originally published Aug. 8, 2018.