The Trump administration has successfully reunited all eligible immigrant children under the age of 5 it was announced today. The heads of Health and Human Services, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice issued a joint statement this morning making the declaration.
“Dedicated teams at the Departments of Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, and Justice have worked tirelessly to ensure the safety of Ms. L class members. As of this morning, the initial reunifications were completed,” the statement read.
“Of course, there remains a tremendous amount of hard work and similar obstacles facing our teams in reuniting the remaining families. The Trump administration does not approach this mission lightly, and we intend to continue our good faith efforts to reunify families,” it added.
The administration announced a policy in April by which any individual apprehended crossing illegally into the United States would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. They would be prosecuted in federal court for illegally entering the country instead of being released in the U.S. with a promised hearing by an immigration judge at some future point.
American immigration laws create an incentive for individuals, especially unaccompanied minors, to make the trip to the U.S. under treacherous conditions. If they make it and claim a “credible fear” of returning home to war-torn countries or countries ravaged by crime and gang violence, they are almost assured the ability to stay in the country.
An inordinate backlog of asylum cases means it may take years before their case is heard and they are asked to prove that claim. Many never return to the courts to do so even when their case is called.
Over the last ten years there has been a 1,700% increase in asylum claims according to DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, resulting in a backlog of over 600,000 cases.
The zero tolerance policy resulted in the separation of young children from their parents and guardians as the adults were prosecuted for crossing illegally while the children were not.
The separations turned into a humanitarian crisis as pictures soon emerged of children held in cages sleeping under aluminum “heatsheets” to keep them warm. The publication of audio recordings of children crying out for their parents after being separated and revelations of “tender-age” detention facilities where those children and babies younger than 5 years old were being held alone, fueled a political backlash.
Last month President Trump signed an executive order directing DHS to reverse its separation policy. According to DHS, some 2,000 children have been separated from their parents and guardians and placed in detention centers since April. The agency is now working to reunite those families.
According to HHS, DHS and the DOJ, there were 103 children under the age of 5 that were affected by the policy. Of those, 57 have been reunited with their families as of 7 A.M. this morning, the agencies said. The remaining forty-six children were deemed ineligible by a court for reunification. Reasons for that ineligibility include adults who are incarcerated, have a serious criminal history or have been deported.
“Our agencies’ careful vetting procedures helped prevent the reunification of children with an alleged murderer, an adult convicted of child cruelty, and adults determined not to be the parent of the child,” the joint statement read.
Despite the reunifications however, the Trump administration reiterated its stance that individuals who cross the border illegally will prosecuted to the full extent of the law. The zero-tolerance policy remains in effect.
“Certain facts remain: The American people gave this administration a mandate to end the lawlessness at the border, and President Trump is keeping his promise to do exactly that. Our message has been clear all along: Do not risk your own life or the life of your child by attempting to enter the United States illegally. Apply lawfully and wait your turn,” the agencies said.
Photo by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol