The Trump administration’s decision to criminally prosecute all adults crossing the southern border led to the separation of more than 2,500 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
*These numbers do not include the 103 children under the age of five who were separated from their families. Up-to-date 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. But as of , children remain stripped from their parents or guardians and in government custody.
“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 these children remain 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. The majority of children now fall in this category.
Parent has not been contacted, or parent’s location is unknown
Among children who have not been reunited, some have parents whom the government has yet to contact or has not been in contact with recently. The number declined significantly between Aug. 1 and Aug. 9. This includes parents who have been deported to their home country, have left the country voluntarily, have been released into the United States, whose locations are otherwise unknown or whose relationship with the child is still under review.
Parent is outside the U.S. and has been contacted within the past week
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. Under pressure from the judge to act quickly, the government said on Aug. 9 that it had made contact with adults connected to 299 of those children within the past week.
Parent indicated desire against reunification or waived reunification rights
Another group is children whose parents indicated a desire not to reunify with them. This category appears to include adults who the government says waived their right to reunification, as well as others whose case files indicate they do not want to be reunified. The number increased considerably in the first week of August, as the government made contact with hundreds of parents who are now outside the United States while their children remain in U.S. government custody.
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 this spring or without understanding them.
Red flag triggered by a background check or case file
“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.
Other unspecified litigation prevents reunification
Other groups besides the ACLU have also brought lawsuits against the government for its handling of child migrants and their families. In some of these cases, attorneys have barred the government from releasing a child until certain conditions are resolved, such as documenting when and where a child was taken into custody.
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).
The numbers in this graphic do not include 103 “tender-age” children under the age of 5, whom the government is tracking separately. Information for that age group has not been recently released.
Originally published Aug. 8, 2018.