Fifteen migrant children inside a Northern Virginia shelter are in the process of joining their parents or other relatives in the United States, part of the result of a fierce backlash over a Trump administration policy that separated more than 2,000 such children from their parents at the Mexican border, Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) said Wednesday.
The children at the nonprofit Youth for Tomorrow shelter in Prince William County have been allowed to contact their relatives by telephone during the past week, Warner said after he toured the nonprofit facility with federal officials.
In most of those cases, the children’s parents have been released from immigration detention and will resume custody of their son or daughter in the United States while they await the outcome of their applications for U.S. asylum protections, a shelter official said. Two of the children will be flown back to their native countries to join relatives with the consent of their parents, who are still in detention.
All 15 children are part of a larger effort, announced last weekend, to place with guardians all 2,053 “separated minors” in federal custody after President Trump signed an executive order stopping family separations.
The government said it would allow mothers and fathers who had been separated from their children and are facing deportation to request that their children be sent home with them.
When the halt to separations was announced Saturday, 522 of those children had already been released from government custody to relatives or sponsors.
Warner said the government must move faster to deal with a situation that has traumatized hundreds of children, many of whom were forcibly removed from their parents and sent to shelters in other parts of the country. He called the average 50-day period that it takes for federal officials to screen a relative seeking to take custody of a migrant child “a huge failing.”
“It shows the slipshod, haphazard nature of this administration’s approach to this whole problem,” Warner said, adding that the Trump administration has not been forthcoming with other details. “We know about the 15 that are here, but the over 2,000 other children who were separated? We do not have the answer of how many of them have had the chance to at least have communications with their relatives.”
A federal judge’s ruling in Southern California this week could speed up the process.
Late Tuesday, Judge Dana M. Sabraw of the United States District Court for the Southern District of California ordered the government to return migrant children to their families within 30 days, while setting a 14-day deadline in cases involving children younger than 5. Sabraw also ruled that parents be allowed to speak by phone with their children within 10 days.
Trump administration officials did not immediately say Wednesday whether they would appeal the ruling.
Warner said the 15 children at Youth for Tomorrow, all of them Central American, appear to be treated well.
The senator briefly spoke to some of the children while they were eating lunch in the cafeteria and spent an hour touring the leafy campus, which houses 95 other immigrant children, plus 50 children born in the United States who are in the foster-care system. The campus includes houses with full bedrooms and kitchens, a school where the children spend seven hours a day, areas for counseling, a soccer pitch, and televisions, which many of the boys have been using lately to keep tabs on the World Cup tournament.
Gary L. Jones, director of Youth for Tomorrow, said the shelter’s goal is to help the children get through whatever trauma they experienced before arriving.
“We offer all of our residents a family setting, and we treat them as our own children,” Jones said.
At the news conference, Warner also addressed a separate controversy over conditions involving immigrant minors at a detention facility in Staunton, Va.
In that case, a federal class-action lawsuit alleges a variety of abuses at the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center, which holds about 30 immigrant detainees and juvenile offenders between the ages of 10 and 17.
The lawsuit — which claims that one teenage boy was tied to a chair and beaten by staffers, while other children were forced to use the bathroom in front of guards or were locked in their rooms for up to 14 hours per day — prompted Gov. Ralph Northam (D) to call for a state police investigation, which Warner said he supports.
“We are moving forward on this, the governor is moving forward on this, it’s now in the legal process, and we expect to get answers,” Warner said. “We hope to have at least staff visit that facility shortly.”