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Process of reunification ‘incredibly frustrating’ for immigrant families

President Trump’s executive order on Wednesday halts his policy of family separation at the U.S.-Mexico border, but 2,300 children have already been separated from their families since May. Lawyers who are working frantically to track down the children now say that the administration has done little to help reunite families. Washington Post’s Kevin Sieff joins Hari Sreenivasan for more.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Good evening and thank you for joining us. Today, across the country, lawyers and advocates continue to try to find information [and] track down children and parents to reunite them after they were separated at the border with Mexico.

    Federal officials claim about 500 children are now back with family members but it is not known if they are together in U.S. custody or if they have been deported. More than 2,300 children were separated from adults they were traveling with in the weeks before president trump decided to reverse his decision as part of his "zero-tolerance" immigration policy.

    In Texas, Democratic members of Congress visited a detention facility in MCallen.

  • JACKIE SPEIER:

    This is not the way we treat people who are seeking asylum in this country. And that's my biggest concern.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    And in San Diego, California and other cities there were protests and rallies against President Trump's "zero tolerance" policies.

  • SPEAKER:

    Families united, not divided!

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    While in Las Vegas today, the president spoke to the Nevada republican party. He promised to continue his immigration policies.

  • DONALD TRUMP:

    Our people are doing a good job handling a difficult situation. But this is something that should have been solved long ago. Our issue is strong borders, no crime. Their issue is open borders, let MS-13 all over our country if you listen to them.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    For more on the reunification of children and families and what's happening at the border Kevin Sieff, Latin America correspondent for The Washington Post joins us now via Skype from Brownsville Texas. First of all you've been out there today, what have you seen?

  • KEVIN SIEFF:

    Yeah. I mean, today is another day in which attorneys across, really across south Texas are trying desperately to find the children of their clients — hundreds of parents who remain detained in this region who don't know where their children are. Can't even begin to locate them. So, this is sort of the early stages of reunification and so far they're incredibly frustrating for both parents and for attorneys who are getting any help from the government in trying to figure out where where and how families are going to be reunified.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    There seem to be two competing narratives here. On the one hand you have the government saying that they are going to be and are reuniting families and on the other hand the lawyers that you've spoken with, who represent dozens, if not hundreds of clients, who are still having trouble finding the children.

  • KEVIN SIEFF:

    Right. I mean, I think part of the issue is the total lack of transparency when parents were detained after they crossed the border, after they were separated from their children, they were theoretically supposed to be given a piece of paper with a toll free number, email address and this was the only way they were able ostensibly able to find information about about their children. First of all, these flyers for the most part, were not actually distributed. The lawyers were able to get a hold of them are able to get these phone numbers, of these e-mail addresses and so have desperately been calling this number and emailing these addresses. And I was actually with a lawyer yesterday when she called this number, trying to get information about a particular case, you're on hold for, often, for over an hour. And then when you finally get something on the line, there's absolutely no information. So the sort of only avenues that exist are total dead ends. And so,what's happened is, attorneys have tried to find their own routes through other legal organizations who are representing children to find information. But all of these, the organizations are wildly overworked and overwhelmed.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    How much more difficult now is it for some of these lawyers to find children, considering that they have been moved to several different parts of the country that they're not all on the Texas border within a few miles of one of them?

  • KEVIN SIEFF:

    That's exactly right. I mean, I think that's one of the biggest issues that you know there may have known where a child was during the first few days but now that child could be in any number of states, could be thousands of miles away from not from the parent. So, I mean, what happens is that the child and the parent end up on parallel, parallel tracks in our immigration system. And so it what's happening increasingly, is that parents are being deported and children remain lost in a system somewhere. I mean, as hard as this is to do when you've got a parent and a child both in the United State can be a lot harder when when the parent is back in Central America.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Kevin, is there any indication from the folks you've talked to and what you've seen that this is acting as a deterrent that there are fewer people trying to get in or seek asylum?

  • KEVIN SIEFF:

    I think families that are fleeing things that pose imminent threats to their lives, I don't think they'll be deterred. I think they will continue onwards. I mean, I think, what I've seen is people constantly sort of reassessing the right moment to cross the border, the right way to cross the border. I think that's not going to stop. I think we might see a few weeks of a sort of downturn but ultimately, you know, this flow will continue.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right Kevin Sieff of The Washington Post joining us via Skype from Brownsville, Texas tonight. Thanks so much.

  • KEVIN SIEFF:

    Sure.

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