RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The Trump administration is on deadline to reunite families separated at the southern border. On Tuesday, a federal judge ruled that all families had to be reunited within 30 days, but that could be a challenge. NPR's Nurith Aizenman brings us this cautionary tale.
NURITH AIZENMAN, BYLINE: Emily Kephart is based in Baltimore, but she spends her days on the phone with people in Central America, running a program that helps migrant kids in the U.S. who are headed back to their home countries, either by choice or by deportation.
EMILY KEPHART: Making sure that they get connected to community support services once they get back.
AIZENMAN: The nonprofit she works for is called Kids in Need of Defense. Two weeks ago, she got an unexpected email from Guatemala about a 6-year-old girl.
KEPHART: This kid is separated from her family, and a month has gone by, and nobody has any information about where she is.
AIZENMAN: Back in mid-May, the girl and her father had attempted to migrate to the U.S.
KEPHART: They were separated when they entered the U.S. and detained separately. And as of then, nobody had heard anything about where the girl was, who she was with, how she was doing.
AIZENMAN: The father, who is still in ICE detention, had at least managed to alert his family back in Guatemala. Through word of mouth, the family had finally reached a local community group, which just so happens to be one of the ones Kephart has worked with.
KEPHART: And so now I call the Office of Refugee Resettlement's help line, which exists to help parents locate their kids.
AIZENMAN: She gives the operator the girl's name and date of birth. The operator types it into a database, and then there's a pause.
KEPHART: She can't find the girl in the system.
AIZENMAN: It's as if this girl never existed. But then there's a clue.
KEPHART: She does eventually say to me, you know, there's a girl coming up in the database whose first name is spelled differently and whose date of birth is, like, a month off. This could be your girl.
AIZENMAN: Except that's all the operator would say. She told Kephart she wasn't allowed to reveal where this girl with a similar name was being held. Kephart's thought...
KEPHART: So frustrated. I felt like we were hitting a, like, bureaucratic wall.
AIZENMAN: But Kephart was convinced she was on the right track, so she called up a case manager at a shelter for migrant kids who she happens to know personally, and that woman was willing to look up and tell Kephart which shelter was holding the girl with a similar name. Kephart happened to know a case manager there, too, so she calls up that shelter.
KEPHART: And I no sooner get the name out of my mouth, and she says, oh, my gosh, yes.
AIZENMAN: It was the same 6-year-old girl. The shelter had been told she'd been separated from a parent, but that's all.
KEPHART: We've been - we don't have anything to go on. I'm so glad to talk to you.
AIZENMAN: Now that father and daughter have been matched, the shelter has been trying to coordinate a phone call between them, but with the father still in detention, that's proving complicated.
So this girl has not talked to anyone that she knows for how long now?
KEPHART: At least five weeks. And she is 6.
AIZENMAN: And there's another wrinkle. This family doesn't speak Spanish, only an indigenous Mayan language, which means it's unclear how well anyone has been communicating with this little girl.
KEPHART: The systems that are in place are absolutely not equipped to deal with this.
AIZENMAN: And Kephart notes this girl is only one of at least 2,000 children still waiting to be reunited with their parents.
Nurith Aizenman, NPR News, Baltimore.
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