Reuniting border separated families complicated by poor planning

Reuniting separated families who were pulled apart at the US-Mexico border has been given a deadline.

Matching parents and children is not straightforward, however.

A California judge told US border authorities on 27 June they had 30 days to reunite the families. Less if children are under the age of five.

Families with under five year-olds have to be reunited within 14 days.

That means the government has until today to reunite about 100 children under the age of five with their parents. It has until July 26 to reunite hundreds of older children.

Christine Reis, Director of the Human Rights Institute of the University of St Thomas School of Law, says because the US border “zero tolerance” decision “happened very quickly … there was not appropriate planning”.

Reis says the three family detention centers in operation are not “equipped to handle even a small portion” of the immigrants who come in.

Reunification efforts are complicated as government records assigning “family identification numbers” to immigrant families were reportedly deleted.

Without the family identification numbers to connect them, immigrant parents and their children appear in federal computers as individuals with separate cases and no relation to one another.

When they were taken from their parents, the children were placed in the custody of the Health and Human Services department and flown to shelters across the country.

“That was the big problem. We weren’t able to see that information,” one of the officials told The Times.

The officials said the records weren’t deleted deliberately to conceal the family ties, but because the customs agents thought it was more logical to track cases separately rather than as a family unit.

The Health and Human Services (HHS) department now has to work out which children were separated from their parents at the US-Mexico border, and which arrived in the country unaccompanied.

Federal employees are manually reviewing documents for each of the 11,800 individual immigrant children in HHS custody to see if anything in their files indicate they arrived at the border with their parents.

On Friday, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington called for an investigation into the Department of Homeland Security and HHS over the records, calling the deletions a violation of the Federal Records Act.


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