Advocates Work To Reunite Migrant Families The legal coordinator at a migrant shelter in El Paso, Texas, is one of many across the country working with U.S. government officials to reunite parents and children separated at the border.
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Advocates Work To Reunite Migrant Families

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Advocates Work To Reunite Migrant Families

Advocates Work To Reunite Migrant Families

Advocates Work To Reunite Migrant Families

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The legal coordinator at a migrant shelter in El Paso, Texas, is one of many across the country working with U.S. government officials to reunite parents and children separated at the border.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Across the country, lawyers and advocates are working with U.S. government officials to reunite families with their children separated at the U.S.-Mexico border. Over half the number of children under the age of 5 were reunited this past week. Thousands more older children face a court-ordered deadline for reunification by the end of this month. Reporter Mallory Falk of member station KRWG spent this week with people on the ground in El Paso, Texas, trying to make these reunifications happen.

MALLORY FALK, BYLINE: Taylor Levy spends a lot of her day on the phone.

JOSUE: Hello.

TAYLOR LEVY: (Speaking Spanish).

FALK: Levy is the legal coordinator for Annunciation House, a migrant shelter. Right now, she's checking in with a father named Josue. He's trying to get his 16-year-old daughter back but tells Levy there's a problem.

JOSUE: (Speaking Spanish).

FALK: After he was released from custody, Josue went to live with his brother-in-law.

LEVY: And his brother-in-law has papers and is legal and everything and owns a house, and so he thought he was going to be fine with all the paperwork with ORR.

FALK: ORR is the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the federal department that cares for the children in custody.

LEVY: But he didn't know that there's a couple other people living in the house as well who are undocumented and are just really scared about ICE picking them up.

FALK: Because, thanks to a new policy, ORR collects information on everyone in a household, and shares that information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

LEVY: There's nothing to do - we can do right now to get the child out unless something changes with the court order or he moves.

FALK: It's just one example of challenges parents face as they try to reunite with their children. Levy tells Josue she'll look for other housing.

JOSUE: (Speaking Spanish).

LEVY: (Speaking Spanish).

FALK: Levy and her team are helping about 50 parents like Josue. Annunciation House has connected most of them with pro bono attorneys. But Levy says the reunification process is so onerous, the more hands on deck, the better. So they have a team of volunteers.

SHALINI THOMAS: So this is a fun back-and-forth.

FALK: Shalini Thomas is one of them. She's typing up notes from earlier in the week when there was a rush to reunite children under 5 with their parents before that court-ordered deadline. Thomas flips through a handwritten log of all the calls between her team and one ORR shelter as they worked to book a flight for a 3-year-old.

THOMAS: At 9 a.m., they said we don't know who has to pay. At 2:20, we were told we have to pay. At 4:45, we paid. At 9 o'clock at night, they called and said ORR is paying.

FALK: And booked a separate flight.

THOMAS: Social workers at this particular shelter have been above and beyond amazing. It is not their fault that we have 10 pages of case notes, and we're on the phone with them all day.

FALK: Thomas says not all social workers have been so cooperative, and that there's little consistency across shelters. Different social workers say they require different documents from parents.

THOMAS: There is no rhyme or reason. There's no pattern. It's a bureaucratic mess.

FALK: But sometimes there's good news. Levy gets a call that a Brazilian father and son have just been reunited and dropped off at the Annunciation House shelter. She heads over to greet them and do a legal intake. The father, who asked that we not use his name, tears up as he describes his ordeal.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Portuguese).

FALK: He says he was initially told he would be separated from his son for three to five days, then be deported, but three days passed, then four, then five. He says he's finally seeing his son after 54 days, and it hasn't quite sunk in.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Portuguese).

FALK: Levy helps the pair get settled. They'll spend the night here before flying out to stay with a friend. Then she heads back to her office to try and set more reunions in motion. For NPR News, I'm Mallory Falk in El Paso.

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