Families still separated as clock ticks

Immigrants from Brazil seeking asylum, Natalia Oliveira da Silva carries her daughter, Sara, 5, from a van as they arrive at a Catholic Charities facility, Monday, July 23, 2018, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

The Trump administration faced a court-imposed deadline Thursday to reunite thousands of children and parents who were forcibly separated at the U.S.-Mexico border, an enormous logistical task brought on by its “zero tolerance” policy on illegal entry.

Authorities have identified 2,551 children 5 and older who may be covered by the order to be reunited with their parents by Thursday’s court-imposed deadline. That effort was expected to fall short, partly because hundreds of parents may have already been deported without their children.

But, by focusing only those deemed by the government to be “eligible” for reunification, authorities expected claim success.

As of Tuesday, there were 1,012 parents reunified with their children in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody. Hundreds more had been cleared and were just waiting on transportation.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told members of Congress on Wednesday that the administration was “on track” to meet the deadline, an assertion that was greeted with disbelief and anger by the all-Democrat Congressional Hispanic Caucus, according to people who attended. Nielsen declined to comment to reporters as she left the closed-door meeting.

For the last two weeks, children have been arriving steadily at ICE locations in Texas, Arizona and New Mexico to be reunited with parents. Faith-based and other groups have provided meals, clothing, legal advice and plane and bus tickets. Parents are typically equipped with ankle-monitoring bracelets and given court dates before an immigration judge.

Natalia Oliveira da Silva, a mother from Brazil, waited nervously outside a detention center in Pearsall, Texas, for her young daughter, Sara. She soon spotted the 5-year-old approaching in a vehicle, a seatbelt over her chest.

Sara got out and was quickly in her mother’s arms, asking her, “They’re not going to take you away again, right?”

Since their separation in late May, the girl had been at a shelter for immigrant minors in Chicago, while Oliveira was moved through facilities across Texas.

U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego commended the government Tuesday for its recent efforts and for apparently being on track to reunify the roughly 1,600 parents it deems eligible, calling it “a remarkable achievement.” Yet Sabraw also seized on the government’s assertion that 463 parents may be outside the United States. The Justice Department said this week that the number was based on case files and under review, signaling it could change.

“It is the reality of a policy that was in place that resulted in large numbers of families being separated without forethought as to reunification and keeping track of people,” said Sabraw, an appointee of Republican President George W. Bush.

Lee Gelernt, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union who represents the separated families, said the government is “letting themselves off the hook” by focusing on those it deems eligible and excluding parents who were deported or haven’t been located.

“I think the critical point to remember, is that they are only reunifying by the deadline those families who they are claiming unilaterally are eligible for reunification by the deadline,” he told reporters. “The deadline is the deadline for just those parents and children the government says it can reunite.”

Lourdes de Leon, who turned herself into immigration authorities, was deported to her native Guatemala on June 7 but her 6-year-old son, Leo, remained in the United States.

De Leon said Guatemalan consular officials told her signing a deportation order would be the easiest way to be reunited with Leo.

“He is in a shelter in New York,” de Leon said. “My baby already had his hearing with a judge who signed his deportation eight days ago. But I still do not know when they are going to return him to me.”

The government was expected to provide the judge with an updated count by the end of Thursday. Both sides were due in court Friday.

Spencer Amdur, another ACLU attorney, said there are three categories of concern: The roughly 1,600 children who “everyone agrees have to be reunified” by Thursday; children whose parents were deported and who must be reunified but not necessarily by Thursday; and others the government deems ineligible, including parents with criminal records or are suspected of abuse or neglect and some who aren’t really the children’s parents.

In El Paso, the Annunciation House, which has been assisting dozens of reunited families, said progress has been slow considering Thursday’s deadline. The organization has already received about 250 reunited families. Advocacy group FWD.us has been buying plane tickets for them to quickly leave.

“We are under a logistical 24/7 crisis all-hands-on-deck moment to get through the (Thursday) deadline. We will not stop until all of these children are reunited with their parents and that is regardless of where their parents are,” said Alida Garcia, coalitions and policy director for FWD.us.

The government gives advocates sometimes as little as an hour’s notice when they’re releasing parents and children, Garcia said. The government has been shuttling kids from their shelters to the parking lots of the detention centers where their parents are held. Then they are handed over to non-governmental and faith-based groups that help them get to their intended destination.

Late last month, Sabraw ordered a nationwide halt to family separations, which President Donald Trump effectively did on his own amid an international outcry. He issued a 14- day deadline to reunite children under 5 with their parents and 30 days for children 5 and older.

Attention will now shift largely to the hundreds of children whose parents may have been deported and to how much time reunified parents in the United States should have to decide if they want to seek asylum.

The ACLU, which wants the judge to give families at least seven days after reunification to decide on their next steps, filed a raft of affidavits from attorneys working on the border Wednesday that detail what it considers flawed procedures, including limited phone access and strict visitation policies, language barriers and being given only a few minutes to decide whether to leave their children in the United States.

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Spagat reported from San Diego. Associated Press writers Alan Fram in Washington and Sonia Perez D. in Guatemala City contributed.

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Copyright © 2018 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Feds fail to meet deadline on family separations

Ever Reyes Mejia is reunited with his 3-year-old son at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office building in Grand Rapids, Mich.  (Cory Morse/The Grand Rapids Press via AP)

Some immigrant toddlers are back in the arms of their parents, but others remained in holding facilities away from relatives as federal officials fell short of meeting a court-ordered deadline to reunite dozens of youngsters forcibly separated from their families at the border.

In Grand Rapids, Michigan, Ever Reyes Mejia walked out of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement center Tuesday, carrying his beaming son and the boy’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles backpack. The boy was secured in a booster seat, and father and son were driven away.

Another boy and a girl who had been in temporary foster care were reunited with their Honduran fathers at the center about three months after they were split up.

The three fathers were “just holding them and hugging them and telling them that everything was fine and that they were never going to be separated again,” said immigration lawyer Abril Valdes. The children were “absolutely thrilled to be with their parents again.”

Late last month, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego set a 14-day deadline to reunite children under 5 with their parents and a 30-day deadline for older children.

It wasn’t immediately clear how many children left detention facilities Tuesday or how many remain.

Two young boys and a girl who were separated from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border are reunited with their Honduran fathers in Michigan. (July 10)

In trying to meet the first deadline, the government began with a list of 102 children potentially eligible to be reunited and whittled that to 75 through screening that included DNA testing done by swabbing the inside of the cheek.

Of those 75, Justice Department attorneys told the court the government would guarantee 38 would be back with their parents by the end of Tuesday. They said an additional 17 could also join their parents if DNA results arrived and a criminal background check on a parent was completed by day’s end.

Government attorneys, meanwhile, told a federal judge that the Trump administration would not meet the deadline for 20 other children under 5 because it needed more time to track down parents who have already been deported or released into the U.S.

Sabraw showed little appetite for giving more time to the government unless it could show good reasons in specific cases.

“These are firm deadlines. They’re not aspirational goals,” the judge said Tuesday.

Asked about the missed deadline, the president said: “Well, I have a solution. Tell people not to come to our country illegally. That’s the solution.”

The government defended its screening, saying it discovered parents with serious criminal histories, five adults whose DNA tests showed they were not parents of the children they claimed to have, and one case of credible child abuse.

“Our process may not be as quick as some would like, but there is no question it is protecting children,” said Chris Meekins, a Health and Human Services Department official helping to direct the process.

American Civil Liberties Union attorney Lee Gelernt, whose organization filed the lawsuit that forced the administration’s hand, said he was “both thrilled and disappointed” with the government’s work on the deadline.

“Things have taken a real step forward,” Gelernt said.

At a bus station in Phoenix on Tuesday night, a 22-year-old woman who only gave her first name, Gisela, for safety concerns, said she had been apart from her 4-year-old son for over a month after presenting herself at a port of entry in Texas to seek asylum.

Gisela, a Mexican citizen, said she only spoke to her son once while she was detained in Texas and he was at a shelter for children in Phoenix.

Immigration authorities brought Gisela to Arizona about three days ago and the two were reunited Tuesday.

“He was happy. I was happy,” she said.

In El Paso, Texas, three fathers from Central America were reunited with children under 5 and released Tuesday night to an independent shelter for immigrants and asylum seekers.

The administration faces a second, bigger deadline — July 26 — to reunite perhaps 2,000 or so older children with their families. Many are being held in facilities thousands of miles apart.

A Guatemalan man said his 6-year-old son feared he was dead after U.S. authorities separated the pair in May in El Paso, Texas. Hermelindo Che Coc, 31, said the boy cried on the phone with him from the shelter and asked whether he still loved him.

“I’m asking God for him to be in my arms as soon as possible,” Che Coc, told reporters through tears Tuesday before attending a required check-in with immigration authorities in Los Angeles, where he was told to get a passport and return in October. “Without him, I can’t be happy.”

In ordering an end to the separation of families, the president said they should instead be detained together. But the government does not have the room: ICE has three family detention centers with space for 3,000 people, and they are already at or near capacity, though the Trump administration is trying to line up space at military bases.

On Monday, a federal judge in Los Angeles emphatically rejected the Trump administration’s efforts to detain immigrant families for an extended period. A longtime court settlement says children who cross the border illegally cannot be detained for more than 20 days.

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Householder reported from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Associated Press writers Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar in Washington; Robin McDowell in Minneapolis; Julie Watson in San Diego; Michael Tarm in Chicago; Brian Melley in Los Angeles; Amy Taxin in Santa Ana, Calif.; Nomaan Merchant in Houston; and Corey Williams in Detroit contributed to this report.

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Copyright © 2018 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

The repugnant, hateful liar in the White House

When things get rough for Donald Trump in Washington — as it does frequently — he rustles up his mindless faithful for a rally somewhere out of town and exclaims how “great” he is.

“You ever notice they always call the other side ‘the elite’?” Trump asked Wednesday at such a rally in Duluth, Minn. “The elite! Why are they elite? I have a much better apartment than they do. I’m smarter than they are. I’m richer than they are. I became president and they didn’t.”

Trump turned into his often employed caricature of himself.  He shouted “going home to his mom” when a young protestor was led out  of the hall.  Another one ejected had long hair and Trump got giddy: “Is that a man or a woman? I couldn’t tell. Needs a haircut.”

A typical night on stage for the former reality-show host turned presidential wannabe who things he should be dictator of America.

Back in Washington, the truth tells a more definitive story about the illusion named Trump.

As The Washington Post noted about the dumb decision that tore children away from their parents at our borders:

First it was a deterrent. Then it wasn’t.

It was a new Justice Department policy. Then it wasn’t.

The Trump administration was simply following the law. Then it said separations weren’t required by law.

It could not be reversed by executive order. Then it was.

Trump and his minions changed their stories about the issue at least 14 times before he gave in and signed an executive order halting the onerous practice of separating children from their parents at our borders.

These are normal practices for the political circus that defines Trump’s lame presidency.  He lies so much that fact checking services work overtime to find the truth.

He follows the propaganda rules of another tyrant — Adolph Hitler — who learned early on that repeating lies over and over gave the faithful an illusion that his falsehoods were true.

Last Friday, as stories circulated about crying children being pulled out of the arms of their mothers at the border, reporters asked Trump whey he did not just reverse his two-month old executive order that created the policy.

“You can’t do that through an executive order,” he claimed.

He lied.

On Wednesday — five days after the lie — he contradicted himself once again and signed the new executive order overturning the previous one.

In an editorial headlined “Repugnant,” the Post said:

But all the damage can’t be undone, and certainly all the lessons shouldn’t be unlearned. The zero-tolerance policy was implemented so chaotically, with so little forethought — with about as much care as you would expend on infesting animals — that one former U.S. immigration chief warned that some parents may never find their children again. Even for those who are reunited — and children were being torn away at a rate of some 400 per week — the trauma will cause lasting harm to some. Nor will the injury to America’s reputation abroad be easily repaired.

As to lessons, if this episode of barbarism really is coming to an end, we should take heart that the American people rallied to the side of civilization, and that they could still make their voice heard through Congress. Reporters did the job they are meant to do, dispatching stories in audio, video, photo and written form, and Americans understood that — whatever the complexities of immigration law and immigration reform — this was wrong. Some officials and politicians understood that, too, and some did not. It will be important to remember which was which.

Another repugnant act by a repugnant man who, day by day, works to destroy what once was a great nation called America.