On Saturday evening, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services made a joint statement outlining a plan to reunite 2,000-plus migrant kids with their families after being separated at the border. Before now, the White House reportedly had no formal plan or protocol in place to reunite the families.
The announcement comes after days of backlash and public outcry regarding the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy of criminally prosecuting all adults crossing into the U.S. illegally—including those seeking asylum. It also comes after a June 20 executive order to stop separating families, though it opens the door for a lot of questions about where families will be housed and for how long.
Before, those apprehended crossing the border were referred to an immigration judge after being held in immigration detention, writes Vox. Under Trump’s criminal prosecution policy, adults are sent to a federal jail and then brought before a federal judge—hence the separation, as you can’t have kids in a federal jail. Kids are sent instead to mass detention centers or foster care, sometimes thousands of miles away, sometimes without parents being informed where—or why—their children had been taken.
The DHS and DHHS’ joint statement states that the two departments “have a process established to ensure that family members know the location of their children and have regular communication after separation to ensure that those adults who are subject to removal are reunited with their children for the purposes of removal.” It also states that the government knows where each child is while separated from his or her parents.
“There will be a small number of children who were separated for reasons other than zero tolerance that will remain separated: generally only if the familial relationship cannot be confirmed, we believe the adult is a threat to the safety of the child, or the adult is a criminal alien,” the statement continues.
Once adults are slated for deportation—which, as The Cut points out, “can take anywhere from days to years”—they can try to find their child using an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement hotline that begins the process of reunification.
As of Friday, the statement says, only 522 children had been reunited with their parents.