President Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday (June 20) ending his administration’s policy of separating immigrant families seeking asylum at the U.S. border. This is, at first blush, good news; no new children will be split up from their parents and sent to overcrowded, cage-like detention centers as their parents await federal prosecution behind bars.
But what about the thousands of children who are already there?
The president’s executive order contains no plans to reunite the more than 2,000 children separated from their families due to the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy. The precise number may be higher, as CNN points out; the government has not stated how many children remain in custody, nor how many have been returned to their families. As it stands now, parents are still tasked with finding their children, who are being kept in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services — or, potentially soon, on military bases.
In some cases, as New York magazine’s Daily Intelligencer blog points out, parents were instructed to call hotlines to help find their children, only to discover they had the wrong number.
In others, parents are being deported without their children at all. This was the case with Elsa Johana Ortiz Enriquez, whose 8-year-old son, Anthony, was sent to a facility for migrant children after the two crossed into the U.S. Elsa, meanwhile, was sent back to Guatemala. “I am completely devastated,”she told The New York Times last week.
Previously, when a child entered the U.S. illegally alone, the DHHS would work with any family members or friends already in the country to aid in sponsorship of the child. But the president’s now-stopped family separation policy threw a wrench into this procedure, and there’s currently no mechanism for dealing with the thousands of children who did not enter alone, but ended up separated from their families anyway.
First Lady Melania Trump toured a migrant detention center in Texas near the Mexican border on Thursday (June 21). “I’m here to learn about the facility to which I know you housed children on a long-term basis,” she told a group of workers there, per NBC News. “And I also like to ask you how I can help to these children reunite with their families as quickly as possible.”
Her husband, meanwhile, questioned the point of GOP-proposed immigration legislation originally set to be voted on Thursday. However, the Washington Post reports that House Republican leaders have postponed the vote until Friday.
In the meantime, there are still thousands of children separated from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border — the screams of some of which have haunted social media for days — as well as national demonstrations planned for June 30 to protest these conditions. Here’s how you can get involved with them.
To learn more about how you can support immigrant families, visit familiesbelongtogether.org.