SUNDAY MARKED one month since the passage of a deadline,
set by a federal judge, for the reunification of migrant children forcibly torn from their parents as a result of the Trump administration’s policy. Even as the date came and went, hundreds of those families remained sundered, in many cases with no immediate prospect of being rejoined, the children rendered effectively as orphans and wards of the U.S. government.
Recent court filings are replete with statistics on the categories of children — toddlers, tweens and teens — who remain separated from their parents; those numbers hardly convey the trauma visited upon them by the administration’s zero-compassion policies. By now it is well known, but still difficult to absorb, that the U.S. government broke apart families without the slightest notion or plan for how they would be reunited. This was bureaucratic barbarism on an epic scale. And in its aftermath, there is no accountability, and scarcely a glimmer of regret, for the suffering it inflicted on human beings.
The systematic “zero-tolerance” policy of removing children from their parents, as a means of deterring future migrant arrivals, was in effect for just six weeks. During that time, more than 2,600 minors were confiscated from their mothers and fathers and sent to government-run facilities. The most recent data, current as of Aug. 20, show that 528 of them — about a fifth — remain separated from their parents, most under the auspices of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, an agency in the Department of Health and Human Services.
In court filings, the government and the American Civil Liberties Union, which as a matter of competence has taken the lead in trying to clean up a mess created by the administration, have laid out the numbers: Some 412 of the children’s parents have been deported, in some or many cases having believed, wrongly, that consenting to leave the country — thereby waiving their right to seek asylum — meant they would be reunited more quickly with their sons and daughters.
A committee coordinated by the ACLU has managed to reach about 230 of those parents, most of them by phone, the large majority in Honduras and Guatemala. Another 180 or so have not been reached; in 40 cases, the committee doesn’t even have a phone number for them from the administration; in another 38 cases, the phone numbers appear not to work.
On the ground in Central America, a nonprofit group, Justice in Motion, is also trying to fix what the U.S. government broke, its workers making their way to towns and villages, some of them remote, to track down deportees whose children remain in the United States, either at government facilities or with foster families. Eventually, now that the damage has already been done, the U.S. government will fly some of the children back to their parents; others, whose parents cannot be located, will remain without their moms and dads, casualties of a callous policy. As far as the Trump administration seems concerned, children and parents alike are the detritus of one of its many ongoing attempts to curb immigration: broken families; broken hearts.