After widespread outcry over the Trump administration’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents, the process of reuniting families is underway – but the federal government is scrambling to meet the July 26 deadline set by a federal judge to return 2,500 children, including dozens held in Chicago, who were taken from their parents at the border.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Thursday that while the administration wants to honor the judge’s order, the reunification process is complicated.
“Every parent knows where every child is, we know where every child is, but we do want to make sure that that adult that presented with the child is safe for the child,” Nielsen said. “This is about the protection of the child. We have a 315-percent increase in fraudulent families presenting at the border. This point is lost, but we need to protect the children. Most of these – a good portion of these adults showing up are not their family.”
“I will be pleasantly surprised if they, in fact, meet that deadline,” said Britt Miller, a partner in the Chicago office of Mayer Brown who was part of the pro bono legal team representing two Brazilian mothers who were separated from their sons. “It is clear, at least from my perspective, that the government was not in a position to deal with the actual ramifications of the (zero tolerance) policy.”
“This has been a complete crisis,” said Mary Meg McCarthy, executive director of the National Immigrant Justice Center, which offers legal counsel to some 10,000 people a year. “There is just no recognition by this administration of the rule of law. They’re dehumanizing immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers, and they’re violating domestic and international law.”
“There remains both a legal morass as well as a moral, personal morass that needs to be sorted out,” Miller said. “I don’t know if we will ever know of the depths of damage done to some of these children from being separated from their families, so I would urge, I guess, folks not to become so desensitized as this becomes ‘yesterday’s news.’
“It’s real and it’s happening every day and it’s real to the people that are living it.”
Miller and McCarthy join Chicago Tonight for a conversation.