The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The status of more than 2,600 children at one point held by the government

Natalia Oliveira da Silva and her daughter, Sara, 5, who are migrants seeking asylum, hug Monday as they wait at a Catholic Charities facility in San Antonio. (Eric Gay/AP)
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There’s a surprising level of imprecision about the status of children at one point held by the Department of Health and Human Services’s Office of Refugee Resettlement. Most of the children, but not all, were separated from their families at the border under a policy implemented by President Trump’s administration earlier this year. Most, but not all, have now been reunited with their parents.

Data on the status of the children can be gleaned from court filings submitted by the government as part of the legal process that last month mandated that the children be returned to their families. One, from earlier this month, addresses children under 5. Another, released Thursday, deals with those who are 5 to 17.

Here’s what those documents say.

1,500 children have been reunited with their parents. The bulk of these, 1,442 of them, are children 5 and up who were reunited with parents being held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The other 58 are under 5.

378 kids 5 or older have been discharged in other ways. These children were moved to sponsor households, reunited with families members who had been released into the United States or released earlier than the court mandate, or had turned 18.

23 children under 5 can’t be reunified at the moment. Of these 23, 11 have parents in criminal custody and 12 have parents who have been deported. It’s not clear when these reunifications will take place.

711 children 5 and up are either awaiting reunification or can’t be reunified. This group can’t be reunified for a wide range of reasons. Among them:

  • 120 have a parent who waived reunification.
  • 79 have parents who were released into the United States.
  • 431 have parents who were deported or left the country.
  • 94 have parents who can’t be located.
  • Seven can’t be reunified because of other court actions.
  • Between 21 and 67 have parents who have “red flags” due to a background check or other review.

Some parents who signed reunification waivers told the ACLU that they didn’t know what they were signing.

21 children under 5 can’t be released. Of these, 11 have parents with a disqualifying criminal background, seven have identified parents who can’t be confirmed as their parents, two have parents who were identified as a threat to the child and one has a parent who is being treated for a communicable disease.

26 children were determined not to be part of the group eligible for reunification. Of these, 20 are 5 or older.

The lines drawn in the court filings are blurry. Among those 711 children 5 or older who are awaiting reunification, for example, parents fall into multiple categories. The categories drawn for the two age groups aren’t identical, so we may inadvertently be comparing apples with oranges.

But the big picture remains clear. Thousands of children were separated from their parents, and most of them now have rejoined their parents, often in ICE custody. Hundreds of others remain in limbo. There are still happy endings to hopefully be written.