Thirty-seven children between the ages of 5 and 12 were left in vans for up to 39 hours in the Texas heat last July, according to a report from NBC News. They were separated from their parents as part of President Donald Trump's "zero-tolerance" policy to deter migrants from crossing the border.
The children were driven to the Port Isabel Service Processing Center, an immigration detention facility near Los Fresnos, Texas, on the afternoon of July 15, 2018, to be reunited with their families. Instead, they waited. The majority of children spent a minimum of 23 hours in the vehicles, and it wasn't until after two nights that every child met with their parents.
Andrew Carter of the Bureau of Child and Family Services said that the lack of preparation on behalf of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) delayed the process. "The children were initially taken into the facility, but were then returned to the van as the facility was still working on paperwork," Carter told NBC. "The children were brought back in later in the evening, but returned to the vans because it was too cold in the facility and they were still not ready to be processed in."
I emailed the Administration for Children and Families, a division within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), to ask some additional questions. "Thanks for reaching out," a communications officer responded. "We have nothing further to add."
The situation is yet another example of the Trump administration's failure to control a situation it created with its "zero-tolerance" approach, which has fueled chaos as migrants continue to arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border. A recent review by the Office of Inspector General (OIG)—released in January—found a number of problems with the government's oversight of family separations, including the fact that the separations continued even after U.S. District Court Judge Dana Sabraw ordered an end to the practice in June 2018. The report also identified "the lack of an existing, integrated data system to track separated families across HHS and DHS," the absence of which put many families in limbo and prevented officials from determining where some children had been placed.
This mismanagement is corroborated by private emails sent between HHS and ICE.
"[I]n short, no, we do not have any linkages from parents to [children], save for a handful," an official from HHS wrote in an exchange with a top official at ICE on June 23, 2018. "We have a list of parent alien numbers but no way to link them to children."
That the federal government is still struggling to reunite families should come as no surprise considering how haphazardly we've acted at the border. Reuniting these families would be less of a challenge if we had not broken them apart in the first place.