By Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN
How many immigrant families have been reunited since a judge ordered the US government to halt most family separations at the border?
And how many kids from separated immigrant families are still in government custody?
We don’t know, because officials aren’t saying.
It’s been more than a week since they released a tally of how many kids from separated families remain in government custody.
And officials have repeatedly declined to respond to questions about how many families have been reunited.
Deadlines are looming; the government has less than a month to reunite the families it separated. Here’s the latest:
On June 20, the Department of Health and Human Services said there were 2,053 children from separated families in its care. On June 26, the agency said there were 2,047 such children.
Why haven’t officials released updated figures since then? According to HHS, it’s because the number of immigrant children in the agency’s care is always in flux — and because they are working with other agencies to cross-check the numbers they have.
Federal officials have released updated statements revealing the total number of immigrant children in their care — a figure that includes children who crossed the border alone and children who were separated from their families after crossing. But since June 26, they’ve refused to specify how many kids from separated families remain in custody.
Here’s why that particular statistic matters: It’s the only figure officials have provided that gives us any indication of whether reunions are happening.
This isn’t a perfect equation; we don’t know whether the children released from HHS custody were reunited with parents — only that they’re no longer in one of the agency’s shelters. The government has not answered questions about the circumstances of their release.
But without a response to questions about how many reunions have occurred — or at least an updated figure on the number of kids from separated families who remain in custody — the public has no way to track whether families are being reunited or how quickly it’s occurring. All we have are anecdotal examples of a few scattered reunions at airports.
The latest information we have was provided to CNN by a US government source: a map showing that the 2,047 separated unaccompanied minors who were in custody of the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement as of June 25 were scattered across 16 states.
In response to CNN inquiries asking for updated statistics on the number of kids from separated families in custody, officials have released the following statement:
“As HHS continues to evaluate the impact of the District Court ruling, and given the constantly changing number of unaccompanied alien children in our care (every day minors are referred to our care and released from our care to parents, close relatives or suitable sponsors), we are providing the total number of unaccompanied alien children in the care of HHS-funded grantees. While we understand the interest in detailed breakdowns of this information, our mission has been and remains to provide every minor transferred to HHS, regardless of the circumstances, with quality and age-appropriate care and a speedy and safe release to a sponsor.”
On June 26, US District Judge Dana Sabraw laid out a series of deadlines in his ruling.
By July 6, officials must make sure every separated parent has a way to contact their child. By July 10, children under 5 must be reunited with their parents. And by July 26, all children should be reunited with their parents.
Officials have said they’ll comply with the judge’s order, but they haven’t specified what steps they’ll take to do that. They are scheduled to appear in court on Friday for a status hearing.
Attorneys for the ACLU, which has sued the government over the family separations practice, say they are monitoring the situation and will go back to the court if officials fail to comply with the deadlines.