The families not reunited: One mother's wait in limbo

Alejandra was shown her release paperwork and told she would be reunited with her 6-year-old daughter later in the da...

Posted: Jul 30, 2018 12:06 PM
Updated: Jul 30, 2018 12:06 PM

Alejandra was shown her release paperwork and told she would be reunited with her 6-year-old daughter later in the day.

She was put into a separate holding facility at the Port Isabel Detention Center in Texas, where she had been separated from her daughter for weeks, and told that her wait would soon be over.

That was 11 days ago.

Alejandra is one of the hundreds of separated parents who were not reunited with their children by the Thursday deadline. Only a small number of nonreunited parents are still in government custody, though. The bulk of unreunited parents are no longer in the United States or have declined reunification with their children.

After days of limbo, Alejandra's attorney was told by the daughter's attorney that Health and Human Services (HHS), which cares for the separated immigrant children, had put a red flag on a child's case. An HHS red flag could indicate there was something that raised safety concerns for the child or questions about whether the adult was really the child's parent.

Both Alejandra and her attorney say they have not been told any specifics about the red flag.

"Please, please, I don't understand why you haven't reunited with me," Alejandra said in a phone interview with CNN from Port Isabel. "I don't know anything. You haven't told me anything. This is really strange. This is all so strange."

CNN is not using Alejandra's real name at her and her attorney's request to protect her identity and personal information.

For parents to be reunited with children by the court-ordered deadline, both Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and HHS had to clear the family for safety and parentage concerns.

HHS would not comment on specific cases, but a spokesperson said any non-reunited families are because of specific concerns.

"Parents in ICE custody that have not yet been reunited with their child are a result of concerns over safety or parentage," the spokesperson said. "(The Office of Refugee Resettlement) is working with (the Department of Homeland Security) to evaluate if a parent is eligible for reunification on a case by case basis and will continue to put the safety of children first during this process."

The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the lawsuit that resulted in the court order to reunite separated families, has demanded more information from the government - including specific information about any parents deemed ineligible for reunification. Lead attorney Lee Gelernt has repeatedly expressed concern that the government is "unilaterally" making decisions about eligibility that the parents and their attorneys cannot challenge.

Alejandra's journey

Alejandra and her daughter attempted to enter the United States on June 9, she says, fleeing gang violence in her native Honduras. They have been separated for a month and a half. In that time, she's watched countless parents be reunited and released.

The fact that Alejandra is still waiting in Port Isabel without any information about how she will be reunited, despite ICE telling her days ago that the reunion was imminent, exemplifies the government's frenzied and hectic process as it rushes to reunify thousands of families it separated at the border. A federal judge ordered the government to reunify the families by last Thursday.

"I called my social worker Thursday and she told me that they didn't know how much longer I would be in this situation," Alejandra said.

The last time she spoke with her daughter was Thursday, according to Alejandra. The phone call lasted 10 minutes, during which she says her 6-year-old said that "she's really sad."

"My child is my whole life. Without her, I'm nothing," she said. "She's ready to be with me."

She is one of the mothers who were held at Port Isabel in an odd limbo last week, released but not yet reunited and not able to leave. Her attorney says there are more parents also in Alejandra's current position, but CNN has not yet been able to independently verify those other cases.

"[Y]ou would think that someone would tell me whether reunification was going to happen or not," Eileen Blessinger, her attorney, said.

"She was told last Wednesday that she was going to be reunited with her child. We're now at a week-and-a-half with no information. If they took the time to tell us that she's going to be reunited, you would think that they would take the time to tell us she's not going to be. Or at least give her an updated timeframe."

ICE deferred questions about Alejandra's case to HHS. ICE did not immediately respond to a follow up about why she was told she was being reunited.

ICE began processing parents that way after early in the reunion process some children ended up spending the night with adults at a detention facility not designed for families. In a statement last week, ICE spokeswoman Sarah Rodriguez said the agency changed its strategy to prioritize the children.

"In order to facilitate more efficient reunification of family units going forward, ICE has leveraged additional resources to enhance processing capacity for adults/parents held in the Port Isabel Detention Center (PIDC)," Rodriguez said. "The safety and well-being of children remains our top priority as we work to comply with the court's order as expeditiously as possible."

But Alejandra has remained in the dark.

The court case

Though the deadline had elapsed, US District Judge Dana Sabraw made clear in a Friday court hearing that more work remains to unite the families that could still be deemed eligible after the deadline.

Reflecting at a final status hearing on Friday, Sabraw noted the chaotic nature of the situation, pointing to the government's own failure at the outset of its separations to plan for reunification.

"There were three agencies, and each was like its own stovepipe. Each had its own boss, and they did not communicate," he said, according to a court transcript. "What was lost in the process was the family. The parents didn't know where the children were, and the children didn't know where the parents were. And the government didn't know either."

For her part, Alejandra called the policy that resulted in her separation "inhumane."

"I would not have come [had I known we would be separated]," "Alejandra said through tears. "I wouldn't have stayed in Honduras, I would have gone somewhere else, but I would not have come if I knew."

Correction: This story has been corrected to clarify the situation of Alejandra's paperwork for release. Alejandra was shown her paperwork, but not given the paperwork.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 544046

Reported Deaths: 7037
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1133801672
Ramsey46957847
Dakota41493415
Anoka37550413
Washington24418273
Stearns20651216
St. Louis16500296
Scott15592116
Wright14440124
Olmsted1260496
Sherburne1031779
Carver956143
Clay769089
Rice7454101
Blue Earth682140
Kandiyohi621879
Crow Wing596486
Chisago539948
Otter Tail535173
Benton521396
Mower447732
Winona435749
Douglas434270
Goodhue431971
Nobles396848
Morrison386359
McLeod383254
Beltrami366957
Isanti363959
Itasca359451
Polk359466
Steele349714
Becker346548
Lyon343748
Carlton324352
Freeborn321729
Pine306521
Nicollet300742
Brown291239
Mille Lacs272548
Le Sueur266222
Todd265830
Cass243826
Meeker229337
Waseca227820
Martin209729
Wabasha19803
Roseau194718
Hubbard168541
Renville168543
Dodge16834
Redwood163935
Houston161814
Cottonwood152520
Fillmore15089
Pennington148719
Chippewa143736
Faribault141819
Wadena141221
Sibley133210
Aitkin127436
Kanabec126121
Watonwan12439
Rock121218
Jackson114710
Yellow Medicine109019
Pipestone107525
Murray10169
Pope9936
Swift97718
Marshall84117
Stevens79610
Lake77819
Wilkin75812
Clearwater75614
Koochiching75612
Lac qui Parle73122
Big Stone5544
Lincoln5542
Grant5398
Norman5139
Mahnomen4898
Unassigned48778
Kittson44922
Red Lake3817
Traverse3595
Lake of the Woods2962
Cook1440

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 355246

Reported Deaths: 5797
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk55552598
Linn20170329
Scott18763234
Black Hawk15468306
Woodbury14792219
Johnson1387680
Dubuque13035202
Dallas1082796
Pottawattamie10627160
Story1024647
Warren549086
Clinton531989
Cerro Gordo519386
Webster506191
Sioux503473
Marshall476274
Muscatine455096
Des Moines439365
Wapello4246120
Buena Vista421240
Jasper406670
Plymouth394179
Lee366855
Marion353975
Jones292355
Henry285537
Bremer278260
Carroll277750
Crawford261739
Boone256331
Benton249155
Washington248249
Dickinson238743
Mahaska223449
Jackson217242
Kossuth211561
Clay208625
Tama206371
Delaware201039
Winneshiek192633
Page189320
Buchanan187331
Cedar182723
Fayette182641
Wright178835
Hardin178742
Hamilton177049
Harrison174673
Clayton165455
Butler161834
Mills157520
Cherokee156438
Floyd154542
Lyon153641
Madison152219
Poweshiek152133
Allamakee149051
Iowa144824
Hancock142734
Winnebago135331
Grundy134732
Cass133954
Calhoun133011
Jefferson130535
Emmet127340
Shelby126637
Appanoose126247
Louisa126049
Sac125819
Mitchell125241
Union123732
Chickasaw122015
Humboldt117926
Guthrie116828
Franklin112421
Palo Alto109622
Howard102622
Unassigned10040
Montgomery99737
Clarke98023
Keokuk94330
Monroe93228
Ida88533
Adair84032
Pocahontas83021
Monona80430
Davis79824
Greene76310
Lucas74822
Osceola73816
Worth7018
Taylor65012
Fremont60410
Decatur5899
Van Buren55318
Ringgold53322
Wayne51823
Audubon4929
Adams3264
Rochester/St. Mary'S
Cloudy
35° wxIcon
Hi: 39° Lo: 34°
Feels Like: 26°
Mason City
Cloudy
41° wxIcon
Hi: 44° Lo: 35°
Feels Like: 31°
Albert Lea
Cloudy
39° wxIcon
Hi: 41° Lo: 34°
Feels Like: 30°
Austin
Cloudy
39° wxIcon
Hi: 41° Lo: 35°
Feels Like: 30°
Charles City
Cloudy
43° wxIcon
Hi: 45° Lo: 36°
Feels Like: 34°
Cloudy and cool conditions this week
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Latest Video

Image

Sean's Weather 4/13

Image

Mayo Clinic physicians out in the community

Image

Alcohol Awareness Month

Image

Jake Braaten commits to SMSU

Image

Aaron's Overnight Forecast

Image

Protests continue in wake of Daunte Wright's Death

Image

CENTURY TRACK AND FIELD

Image

Testing sirens for severe weather season in Olmsted County

Image

Police investigating weekend shooting in Mason City

Image

Aaron's Evening Forecast (4/12/21)

Community Events