Compassion Reporting on poverty fighting and criminal justice

Long-awaited family reunions

Compassion | A year and a half after implementation of the family separation policy, some children continue to wait for their parents
by Rachel Lynn Aldrich
Posted 1/29/20, 04:27 pm

David Xol reunited with his now 9-year-old son Byron last week at Los Angeles International Airport after the U.S. government separated them at a border detention facility in May 2018. U.S. authorities deported Xol to Guatemala, while his son stayed in various government facilities before landing in a host home in Texas. Xol was among nine parents who were able to return to the United States after deportation to reunite with children they hadn’t seen in a year and a half or longer.

“They all kind of hit the lottery,” said Linda Dakin-Grimm, an attorney who represents one of the parents returning to the United States. “There are so many people out there who have been traumatized by the family separation policy whose pain is not going to be redressed.”

The United States’ practice of separating parents and children apprehended at the border officially ended in June 2018. But many children are still waiting to reunite with their families.

The U.S. government took thousands of migrant children into custody after President Donald Trump implemented a zero tolerance policy toward illegal border crossings in 2018. Widespread protests broke out across the country, and a Guatemalan mother sued the U.S. government after authorities separated her from her son. Following mounting criticism, Trump signed an executive order asking the Department of Defense to help house immigrant families caught crossing the border illegally, effectively ending family separation. Days later, a judge ruled against the two-month-old policy.

The United States took some children into custody before the zero tolerance policy went into effect, as well. The Department of Health and Human Services noticed an uptick in children separated from their parents at the border in 2017.

Earlier this month, U.S. officials told a federal judge in San Diego that they have a solid count of the children separated under the policy and precursor programs. The number comes to 4,368. But officials are not confident they know how many separated families have reunited. Estimates of the number of migrant children still living apart from their parents range from the hundreds to the thousands. The United States deported at least 470 parents while their children remained here, complicating reunification efforts. Some children stayed temporarily at facilities before going to stay with a sponsor, usually an extended family member. Others went to shelters or foster homes. Agencies often did not properly record the placements, and finding deported parents in South American countries proved difficult.

In April, the U.S. government acknowledged it could take up to two years to identify and reunite families that are still separated. In September, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw ordered the United States to allow 11 deported parents to return to pick up their children and denied the requests of seven others. He also ordered the government to identify the children separated before the zero tolerance policy and start the process of reunification.

Family separations at the border still occur, but only in specific circumstances. Sabraw ruled on Jan. 13 that the Trump administration had the authority to detain children apart from their parents at the border if officials determined the adults were unfit or dangerous, among other reasons. The American Civil Liberties Union had sued the federal government for separating 911 children from their parents at the border after the policy was rescinded in June 2018.

Healing Hands of Nebraska Healing Hands of Nebraska Demetrio Aguila

Medical breakthrough

As medical debt crushes many people’s finances, a doctor in Nebraska is allowing his patients to pay for surgery by volunteering at local charities. Nerve specialist Demetrio Aguila and his staff at Healing Hands of Nebraska calculate the volunteer hours needed to pay for each procedure based on its complexity and offer patients the option to pay or volunteer. The six-month-old program is called M25 after Matthew 25:40: “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”

Participant Jeff Jensen is working on 560 volunteer hours to pay for surgery that repaired nerve damage in his feet. People pitched in to help him complete the hours, and Jensen said the surgery would not have been done without the M25 program.

“This whole practice is about restoring hope for patients by giving them the opportunity to wrest back control of their healthcare,” Aguila told CBS News. —Charissa Koh

Associated Press/Photo by Mark Tenally Associated Press/Photo by Mark Tenally U.S. Supreme Court

Public charge changes

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday allowed the Trump administration to enforce a rule that would deny green cards to immigrants likely to rely on public benefits. The 5-4 decision lifted a federal judge’s nationwide injunction that prevented government officials from enforcing the rule. Other legal challenges to the rule are pending, but now officials can enforce it across most of the country while the cases move through the courts.

In August, the administration announced revisions to the so-called public charge rule. The changes added the receipt of benefits like Medicaid and food stamps as examples of dependency on the government. The previous definition of “public charge” was much narrower, and less than 1 percent of applicants fit the bill, according to The New York Times. But the revision added more programs and shortened the acceptable time an immigrant could use them and remain eligible for permanent residency. The rule represents the administration’s shift in focus from family-based immigration to admitting immigrations with higher skills. —C.K.

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Rachel Lynn Aldrich

Rachel is an assistant editor for WORLD Digital. She is a Patrick Henry College and World Journalism Institute graduate. Rachel resides with her husband in Wheaton, Ill.

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  •  JC3's picture
    Posted: Thu, 01/30/2020 09:39 am

    Now let's go for the real gold and track down dead-beat fathers and welfare cheats!  How about the feds get out of the welfare business that they do soooo poorly and the churches re-insert the pages in their Bibles to take care of the widows and the poor? It's amazing how few "Christians" know the answer to, "Who took care of the widows & poor before the federal govenment?"  Many tell me, "I don't know.  Who did it?"  Family and friends for starters, then the church helped the truly needy with physical & spiritual needs.  It's was rare for someone to cheat the church, but they don't hesitate to cheat the distant feds.  Not only have the feds taken over the churches' job, the feds have destroyed the concept of family with their policies.   Sodom & Gomorrah here we come!   Lord help this sinful nation.

    Posted: Thu, 01/30/2020 06:25 pm

    "Long-awaited family reunions"

    Looks like a posed photo for the media. Not convincing. Might be a relative, but who cares. 

    Someone forgot to tell the child, or the person with the camera did a terrible job.

    Like someone said, "America belongs to the world." If we pay for it, they will come. 

    I wonder how our poor feel about foreigners getting all that free stuff.