In July of 2018, 37 detained migrant children boarded vans in Texas so they could be reunited with their parents at the Port Isobel Detention Center. But when they reached the Immigration and Customs Enforcement–run detention facility, they had to wait. And wait. It took 39 hours and two nights spent sleeping in vans for the last child to be processed and reunited with their family, with most of the 5- to 12-year-olds waiting at least 23 hours in the center’s parking lot.
All of this is according to a story from NBC News, which obtained e-mails from BCFS Heath and Human Services, a nonprofit and government contractor that was responsible for transporting the children. Per NBC News:
At 10:30 p.m. local time Sunday, July 15, 2018, Andrew Carter, the BCFS regional director responsible for the children, e-mailed Kevin Dinnin, the company’s president and CEO, to alert him to the fact that the 37 children had been waiting for eight hours and not a single one had been processed for reunification.
“The children were initially taken into the facility, but were then returned to the van as the facility was still working on paperwork,” explained Carter. “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.”
Once the BCFS staff realized that ICE wouldn’t complete the processing by nightfall, they brought more vans in to give the children room to sleep. ICE reportedly told the staff that if they brought the children back to the center where they’d been held, just a half hour away, it would delay the processing even more.
A former official with Health and Human Services, the agency that’s tasked with taking care of detained children, told NBC News that the blame falls squarely on ICE’s parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security. “DHS was clearly not ready to deal with the separations and did not take steps necessary to ensure a speedy reunification with their parents,” the official said, adding that if DHS had its act together, then “the impact on the kids would have been much less.”
“The impact would have been less” is a very clinical way to refer to the trauma that the U.S. is forcing on elementary-school-age children. But the kids in this story are at least back with their families—for unaccompanied minors, the situation is likely to keep getting worse. Health and Human Services has taken into custody 40,800 unaccompanied children this year, a more than 50 percent increase from the year before. The agency is legally required to move them from detention facilities to more child-appropriate places as quickly as they can. On Wednesday, the Trump administration announced that it would be cutting funding for anything deemed “not directly necessary for the protection of life and safety,” according to e-mails obtained by The Washington Post. That includes education services, like English classes, recreational activities, including soccer, and legal aid.
According to the Post, an HHS official called these costs for unaccompanied children fleeing violence in Central America “unallowable.”