Only 38 of the 102 separated migrant children under age five were reunited with parents Tuesday evening, CNN reported, in what Michigan immigration attorney Abril Valdes called, “a chaotic day. We've been trying to get these parents reunified with their 3-year-olds,” she said, “and we've been getting the runaround from ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). Not until the last hour did we know it was going to happen here."
The federal government didn’t seem to know much of anything either. With Judge Dana Sabraw’s Tuesday deadline looming, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which sued over family separation, ended up having to assist incompetent officials with returning children they had kidnapped from parents. That same day, Sabraw ordered officials to stick his deadlines, saying that they “are firm deadlines ... not aspirational goals.” But for some reunited families, the time apart had already taken its toll:
“He didn’t recognize me,” said Mirce Alba Lopez, 31, of her 3-year-old son, Ederson, her eyes welling up with tears. “My joy turned temporarily to sadness.”
Another mother reunited in Arizona, Milka Pablo, said that her child Darly “had been potty-trained before the separation,” but “had regressed to diapers” in the time they were apart. In the time Ederson and Mirce were separated, he soon came to believe that some of the children he was held with were his siblings. “I want to go with my little sister,” he said, pointing at a baby named Carmen. “See,” Mirce said, “he thinks those are his siblings.”
In Michigan, eight kids under age five were supposed to be reunited with parents. Only three families ended up being put back together, including Ever Reyes-Mejía and his son, who carried a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles backpack. Valdes, there to help facilitate the reunions, said the parents clutched their children, “holding them and hugging them and telling them that everything was fine and that they were never going to be separated again.”
Thousands of others are hoping for this same chance. Any reunification is a welcome reunification, but 32 kids—according to CNN, the administration was working "throughout the night" on other reunifications—is just a drop in the bucket when it comes to the thousands of other kids over age five who have been separated from families and continue to be separated from families, and the only reason why there have been reunifications so far is because Sabraw has forced the administration to act.
The next family reunification deadline, for an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 children over five, is coming up on July 26. “We have real concern,” said Lee Gelernt of the ACLU, “that the government’s going to meet that deadline.” However, he said, “what we are pleased with is that the judge has made clear he is going to stay on top of the government, hold as many hearings as he needs to, require as many status reports as he needs to, and that’s ultimately, I think, what’s going to be critical in getting this process done.”
Gelernt said that it’s still “a little bit early” to see what happens if the Trump administration fails to comply with the deadlines. “Obviously sanctions are one possibility … it may be that the judge has to stay on top of them even more … we’re going to try to figure that out,” but added that the group is also trying to focus on reunifications. Right now, reunited families have been released with ankle bracelets as their cases play out in immigration court, and the ACLU has stepped in to help some with lodging and bus tickets to get to other relatives in the US.
Just as importantly, so many of these families will be in need of care to deal with the trauma they have gone through due to the purposeful actions of the Trump administration. “I feel like he’s still in shell shock,” Valdes said about one child. Josue Rodriguez, separated from his three-year-old son for 40 days, told CNN that his child asked, "Dad, where were you? I missed you.” They were bound for relatives in Virginia.
Walter Armando Jimenez Melendez and his four year old, separated for 43 days, were on their way to South Carolina. "Sometimes I try to be strong because I don't want to show him sadness," he said. "From here on out, I want everything for him to be happiness, that he tries to forget all of this time that he was separated from me as soon as possible."