In a statement issued late Saturday night, the Trump administration said it has 2,053 “separated minors” in custody, and a formal process has been established to reunite them with their parents before deportation.
The joint declaration by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services came three days after President Donald Trump’s hastily crafted executive order abruptly halting the widely denounced practice of taking away the children of migrant parents who cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.
The two federal agencies said 522 children have already been returned to their parents, and the government would allow mothers and fathers facing deportation to request that their children are sent home with them.
“The United States government knows the location of all children in its custody and is working to reunite them with their families,” the statement read. “This process is well-coordinated.”
The international furor over the separation system was barely mollified by the President’s order in recent days as key federal agencies struggled to explain how they would put families back together again and ensure migrants’ children did not remain in U.S. foster care thousands of miles from their deported parents.
There have been multiple cases in recent weeks of parents sent back to Central America without their children, who had no idea where their children may be held at one of more than 100 government shelters.
The statement issued late Saturday said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has established the Port Isabel Service Processing Center in South Texas “as the primary family reunification and removal center for adults in their custody.”
Under the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” crackdown on illegal immigration, parents who cross illegally with children have been sent to face criminal prosecution while their kids are assigned to foster care facilities run by Health and Human Services.
The parents are typically then transferred to adult immigration jails run by ICE, with little ability to know where their children are nor how to regain custody. The lack of coordination between the two agencies has led to weeks of confusion and swelling numbers of children in government care who were at risk of being stranded in American foster care, thousands of miles from their parents.
Now, under the government’s new plan, parents will receive more information about the whereabouts of their children and telephone operators will facilitate more frequent communication, according to the statement.
The reunification plan will have a few exceptions, according to the late-night communique.
“There will be a small number of children who were separated for reasons other than zero tolerance that will remain separated,” the statement read. “Generally only if the familial relationship cannot be confirmed, we believe the adult is a threat to the safety of the child, or the adult is a criminal alien.”
ICE will also implement a system for tracking separated family members and rejoining them before their deportation as a unit. It will also put parents separated from their children in designated units where they will have easier access to communication, and ICE agents will coordinate travel planning and documentation with Health and Human Services personnel to make sure parents and children depart the United States together, the statement said.