More than a year after a federal judge ordered the federal government to halt family separations and reunite migrant children with their parents, 30 children remain in federal shelters, according to a congressional committee report released Friday.
The House Committee on Oversight and Reform report says the government agency overseeing shelters that house migrant children sent it information about 17 of those children. The Office of Refuge Resettlement found that the parents of at least 10 of those children were deported.
They include an 8-year-old Guatemalan boy who crossed the Arizona border with his father in May 2018 and was sent to an ORR facility near Houston, where he remained for eight months, the report says. The father was deported in July 2018, and the boy was transferred to the Shiloh Treatment Center in January, where the report says he remained as of May.
“Records do not indicate what steps the Administration has taken to reunify the father and the child, who is now nine years old,” the report says. The committee also couldn’t determine what happened in the other cases, the report says.
The committee’s other findings include reports that Customs and Border Protection agents held children in facilities longer than the legal limit of 72 hours. After they were transferred from CBP to the custody of ORR, the children remained in ORR care for an average of 90 days. Some stayed as long as a year and a half.
The report also found that even after children had been reunited with their parents, they remained in Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers in Dilley and Karnes City for weeks to months. The average stay was 58 days, the report says, surpassing the legal limit of 20 days.
Furthermore, the majority of the families reunited in ICE detention — 80% — were later released rather than deported, raising the question of “what purpose was served by their initial detention and whether it was appropriate,” the report says.
According to the report, the committee issued subpoenas earlier this year after the federal agencies overseeing immigration policy refused to provide information voluntarily. The subpoenas led to the committee receiving details about 2,648 children who had been separated from their parents between April and June last year at the height of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy that mandated prosecution of migrants who illegally crossed the border.
A federal judge issued a temporary injunction on June 26, 2018, ordering the administration to halt family separations and giving federal officials two weeks to reunify children under 5 with their parents and a month to reunify all other children. More than 700 children remained separated after those deadlines passed, including several hundred whose parents had been deported, the report says.
At a committee hearing Friday in Washington D.C., U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat and the committee chair, said the administration’s policies are creating massive overcrowding of border detention facilities.
“Anyone in the custody of our government, especially a child, must be treated humanely and with respect,” Cummings said. “Children should not be separated from their mothers or fathers unless there is a true need for it.”
That brought a strong rebuke from U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the ranking Republican on the committee, who accused Democrats of playing politics with the border and the $4.6 billion emergency border aid bill that passed last month.
“For months, [Democrats] declared there wasn’t even a crisis on the border,” he said. “Only now the situation has reached the point that Democrats cannot ignore it and finally decided to acknowledge that there is, in fact, a real crisis on the border.”
U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, an Austin Republican, also criticized Democrats for “putting on shows in front of fences for the media” and said a recent visit to facilities in Clint by his chief of staff found clean conditions and overwhelmed CBP officers.
“This body has failed to secure the border and created the very magnet that is causing these migrants to come through and be abused by cartels while this body cowardly sits in the corner doing nothing about it,” Roy said during the hearing. “The fact is, both parties have failed.”
U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, an El Paso Democrat, called the crisis a matter of choice, not a matter of resources.
“Especially in this last year, El Paso has stepped up, helping feed, shelter and offer hospitality to thousands of migrant families released by [the Department of Homeland Security] week after week,” Escobar said. “My community, with a fraction of the resources available to the federal government, has responded more strategically, thoughtfully and compassionately than the federal government has.”