Originally published by The Washington Post
The Trump administration’s decision to criminally prosecute all adults crossing the southern border led to the separation of more than 2,500 children from their parents or other adults this spring. After President Trump halted the separations on June 20, a federal judge ordered the government to reunite all children under age 5 with their families by July 12 and all older children by July 26.
The government, which did not have a reunification plan in place at the time of the judge’s order, says it has returned all children whose parents have been located and cleared through background checks. But as of Aug. 1, 572 children remain stripped from their parents or guardians and in government custody.
“The reality is, for every parent who is not located, there will be a permanently orphaned child, and that is 100 percent the responsibility of the administration,” U.S. District Judge Dana M. Sabraw told the federal government at an Aug. 3 hearing about reunifying separated families.
Below, we break down the reasons these children remain separated from their families.
Reunited or released from government custody
The government counts a child in this category if they have been reunited with their parents, released to another family member or have turned 18 since being placed in government custody. The majority of children now fall in this category.
Parent has not been contacted, or parent’s location is unknown
Among children who have not been reunited, the largest group consists of those who crossed the border with adults whom the government has not contacted since releasing them from custody. This includes parents who have been deported to their home country, have left the country voluntarily, have been released into the United States or whose locations are otherwise unknown.
Of those who have been deported, many returned to Honduras or Guatemala, sometimes to rural or dangerous locations where making contact may be difficult.
Parent waived reunification rights
Another group is children whose parents waived their right to reunification, according to the government. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which brought the lawsuit that led to the reunification order, has filed court papers alleging that many of these parents signed forms waiving their reunification rights under duress or without understanding them.
Red flag triggered by a background check or case file
“Red flags” from background checks on parents could include things such as criminal histories, abuse allegations or smaller civil offenses. Red flags can also be triggered by questions about the relationship between the adult and child, including waiting for pending DNA results or the need for additional documentation of their parental relationship.
Other unspecified litigation prevents reunification
Other groups besides the ACLU have also brought lawsuits against the government for its handling of child migrants and their families. In some of these cases, attorneys have barred the government from releasing a child until certain conditions are resolved, such as documenting when and where a child was taken into custody.