On Saturday June 23, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a fact sheet describing its implementation of the zero tolerance policy and reunification of families. The fact sheet provides some useful information, but raises as many questions as it answers. Below are some key points from the fact sheet, followed by a list of the information we still need in order to have a full understanding of the separation and reunification of families under current DHS policy.
- Current numbers:
- 2,053 separated minors are being held in Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) funded facilities
- 17% of minors in HHS-funded facilities are there as a result of the Zero Tolerance policy; the remaining 83% arrived in the U.S. without a parent or guardian
- 522 separated children have been reunited by Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), and 16 more are scheduled to be reunited in the near future.
- Parents who are ordered removed from the United States should request that their child accompany them, otherwise they may be deported without their child.
- Separated parents should contact the Detention Reporting and Information Line (no phone number provided, but the number is reportedly posted at detention facilities), or the HHS National Call Center (1-800-203-7001) to locate and establish communion with separated children.
- ICE has implemented a central database that DHS and HHS can access to track family members through the detention and removal process.
- ICE has coordinated with HHS “for the reuniting of the child prior to the parents’ departure from the United States.”
- Minors arrive in HHS custody with information from DHS regarding their manner of entry, whether they were accompanied, and “to the extent possible,” the parents’ or guardians’ information and location.
- Within 24 hours of arriving, minors are given the opportunity to communicate with a “vetted parent, guardian or relative.” Thereafter, they should be able to communicate at least twice per week.
- Attorneys representing minors have unlimited phone access, and the minor may also speak to their consulate, case coordinator, child advocate, or other appropriate stakeholder.
Remaining Questions and Concerns
- This fact sheet indicates that minors and parents will be reunited “prior to the parents’ departure from the United States.” This wording leaves open the possibility that children may not be reunited with their parents until their removal proceedings have been concluded.
- This fact sheet states that ICE has implemented an identification database for linked family members. However, there have been reports that this system did not exist when the practice of family separation began, and families were separated with little or no documentation, so how will DHS ensure that all pre-existing cases of family separation are added to the database?
- According to the fact sheet, within 24 hours of arriving, children can contact a “vetted” parent, guardian, or relative. How is this vetting achieved? How long does it take? If a child entered with an adult and states that it is a parent, is that sufficient to establish contact? If a child is too young to be able to speak, how is contact established?
CLINIC will continue to raise these issues and more with DHS and HHS as we advocate for the reunification of immigrant families, and against extended family detention. If you are handling a case of family separation or otherwise have any relevant information that will help in our advocacy efforts, please contact the advocacy team.