Latest On Family Reunifications NPR's Renee Montagne speaks with Caitlin Dickerson of The New York Times about the current situation at the U.S.-Mexico border as the courts mandate immigrant families be reunited.

Latest On Family Reunifications

Latest On Family Reunifications

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NPR's Renee Montagne speaks with Caitlin Dickerson of The New York Times about the current situation at the U.S.-Mexico border as the courts mandate immigrant families be reunited.


Caitlin Dickerson reports on immigration for The New York Times, and she joins us now for more details on this reunification process. Good morning.


MONTAGNE: And Caitlin, there was a hearing yesterday on family separation. What happened there?

DICKERSON: So in the hearing, we got a new estimate for the number of separated kids who remain in federal custody. It's 2,551. And those are mostly kids who are between the ages of 5 and 17 because the deadline to reunite younger kids with their parents passed this Tuesday. So the final deadline is July 26. And the hearing was dedicated to that. So the judge laid out a series of intermediary deadlines. And his goal was to prevent the kind of chaos that we saw this week where reunifications happened largely in secret, and there were lots of stories of disorganization and false starts. You know, we heard from parents of children who were told they would be reunited one day only to find out that it couldn't actually happen because a computer was down or a DNA test didn't come back in time. So yesterday, the judge said that all parent-child relationships need to be verified by July 19, a full week ahead of the final deadline. And he asked for 12 hours' notice before each reunification of both the locations and the identities of the people involved to make sure they happen on time.

MONTAGNE: And some parents have been deported already without their children. How often has that taken place?

DICKERSON: So we don't know the final number for the total number of parents who have already been deported. We know among children under 5 that there are 12 whose parents have already been deported. And the judge yesterday called that one of the most disturbing realities of this situation. He's very concerned about it. And I can tell you I've talked to some of these parents. You know, I talked to one man, a potato farmer in rural Guatemala, yesterday who says he hasn't heard anything from the American government. And like a lot of people, he accepted deportation. He withdrew his claim for asylum and left the United States early because he thought it would bring his daughter back sooner - his 6-year-old daughter he's waiting on.

And so the government yesterday said that it's not going to allow these parents back into the United States to pick their children up. And so the judge set a seven-day deadline for once the American government gets travel documents for the children, they need to get them back in their home countries with their parents.

MONTAGNE: Right. And you have reported that the Department of Homeland Security is struggling trying to identify and track down the parents of the children that are still being held in these detention centers. Tell us a bit about that.

DICKERSON: Yeah. So the government spoke yesterday in court about the challenges that they're facing marrying the data between parents and children who should be matched with one another. And that's related to this process that I reported on where, at the border when family separation first began, border agents would process families. And they would re-designate them in government computers. So they would not appear in government computers as a family. Once they were separated, they would they would appear in government computers as unaccompanied minors and individual adults. And this identification number, which was the sort of crucial link to be able to track the two later, was deleted, this family unit identification number.

And so, in court yesterday, the government said, you know, we can give you a list of kids who are still in custody who are separated. We can give you a list of parents who are in custody who are separated. But if you want us to marry that list, it's going to take us a long time. We're going to have to do it manually with two people sitting side by side. So you better let us focus on just reunifying people on a case-by-case basis rather than giving you a complete list of matched parents and children because we don't have one right now.

MONTAGNE: Caitlin Dickerson covers immigration for The New York Times. Thanks for joining us.

DICKERSON: Thanks so much.

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