Why do so many migrant children continue to remain under U.S. custody, more than a month past a federal judge’s reunification order? Because for some of the kids, the Trump administration is refusing to recognize their family members as a valid family. Advocates tell Rewire’s Tina Vasquez that some children are not being reunited with the close relatives they traveled with—including grandparents and older siblings—“because of the Trump administration’s narrow definition of ‘family.’”
“Based on the cases advocates have encountered,” Vasquez reports, “the federal government appears to be prioritizing the reunification of biological parents with their children, not adults and children with other familial ties, even in cases when the adult has legal custody of the child.” In fact, some of these children came with family members because the violence they were fleeing had already claimed the lives of their parents, like in the case of 12-year-old “Cindy.”
The girl was separated at the U.S./Mexico border from her grandma, “Rosy,” after fleeing El Salvador—Cindy’s mom had gone missing, presumably kidnapped and killed by gangs. Then, said attorney Lizbeth Mateo, they threatened Cindy’s life too. “Rosy went to the police, but they didn’t do anything.” The two then fled to the U.S., only to be torn apart under the barbaric “zero tolerance” policy. Then, as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) refused to reunite them, they repeatedly demanded Rosy give up her granddaughter.
“She refused to sign her rights away and ICE kept trying, every couple of weeks they would ask her the same thing,” Mateo continued. “How can someone like Rosy not qualify for reunification and be told they’re not the parent, and then get pressured to sign away their rights to their child?” In the case of one Honduran family, the Trump administration is refusing to reunite 15-year-old Mariela with her older sister Leisby, who has had legal custody of the teen since the death of their mom several years ago.
“Since my mom died, since she was little, she calls me ‘mom,’” Leisby said, who remains locked up in California’s Port Isabel Service Detention Center while Mariela has been released to a U.S. relative she had never met before. “For me,” Leisby continued, “she is my daughter not my sister. She calls me mommy … because God took [our mother] and [now] she has me as a mother. That is my wish to be with her again because I need her, we both need each other, and we cannot be separated.”
In total, 497 migrant children continue to remain separated from their parents and guardians, in blatant violation of a federal judge’s court order. Every day torn apart is another day of trauma, and it’s on the hands of the Trump administration. “The government is inventing so many excuses not to comply with the court order,” said Bethany Carson of Grassroots Leadership. “It’s ludicrous these parents are being excluded from being released and reunited with children when they are the only parents the children have ever known.”