Thousands of children still separated from parents at the border

TORNILLO, Texas — A new report from the Washington Post says the White House is considering a policy that could again separate parents and their children at the U.S.- Mexico border.

The new plan would give parents a choice to either stay in family detention with their child as their immigration cases proceed, or allow their children to be taken into a government shelter so other family or guardians can seek custody.

There are still 15-hundred children separated from their parents at the Tornillo Detention Facility on the Texas-Mexico border.

Leyla Santiago takes us inside.

Arriving at a migrant shelter — a bus filled with Central American families released from ICE custody.

A 27 year old mother said she was forced to leave Honduras, a country plagued with violence. She said that the gangs wanted to recruit her son, and when she said no, they told her she had 15 days to leave the country or they would kill her boy.

Ruben Garcia runs Annunciation House, a migrant shelter about half an hour from Tornillo — an area where the Department of Health and Human Services houses about fifteen hundred teens who cross the border without a parent.

The facility has had to extend its deadline for closing and has had to expand.

“We’re out of space, unfortunately, given all of the increasing numbers” said Kirstjen Nielsen, the Secretary of Homeland Security.

More children and more families are coming in and crossing the border. The facilities can’t handle the high numbers. They don’t have enough beds or places to care for them.

The facility has its own firefighters. They have a place to worship and have a place to eat. The people there live in tents. Bibles are placed on their beds as well as teddy bears for children. A young man from El Salvador said he’s been there a month and 11 days. He crossed the border alone.

Others are waiting to be reunited with their families.

“I would say, you know, there are multiple factors, in terms of why we have so many kids at this point in time. And yes, we have added additional protections to ensure the homes these children are going to safely. That is adding time” said Mark Weber the Deputy Assistant Secretary, Health and Human Services.

The average time for a child to stay in HHS custody is 59 days.

The reason, they say, more Central American children are crossing the border — a 30-percent increase in just the last two months.

The Trump Administration zero tolerance policy — it’s separated about 2,600 children from their parents, though most have been reunited.

There is a new requirement to fingerprint sponsors — those agreeing to care for the children waiting for a day in court.

The Commander at Tornillo says sponsors for more than half of the children have had fingerprints taken.

The facility is expected to keep taking care of the teens through December 31st.

“They’re risking their lives. And so you have to ask yourself — what would it take for you to risk your life and that of one of your children for several years? What would it take? And I think that’s — that’s what gets lost in all of this discussion” said  Ruben Garcia, director, Annunciation House.

In the meantime, children continue to wait, to one day be released, to one day be reunited with family and try to find a better life.