After reunion deadline, many families remain separated

The chances of reuniting immigrant parents and children may dwindle with time.


This article was originally published by and is reproduced here with permission. 

Some, but not all, immigrant families have been reunited after a court gave the U.S. government a deadline to reverse its separation of children from adults at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Those separations happened between May and June. President Donald Trump signed on June 20 to end immigrant family separations. Now, the government has failed to meet the court’s July 26 deadline for reunification of all eligible families.

I’ve been writing about on undocumented families for years, and I believe that for the families that remain separated, the likelihood of reunification may grow remote.

Hundreds of children remain apart from their parents after being separated at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The numbers

The exact numbers of children who are still separated from their families are difficult to nail down. On July 23, a government representative 1,012 parents had been reunited with their children out of approximately 1,637 who were deemed eligible.

The government has deemed some parents ineligible for reunification because they are currently in criminal custody, have criminal records or suffer from communicable diseases. Others cannot be located.

However, the ACLU reported on July 23 that at least 917 parents from their children. More than half of these parents, 463, have already been deported.

Even for those who have been reunited, the relief has been brief. Many parents still face deportation orders and must make the decision of whether to be deported with or without their children.

Challenges to reunification

When immigrant children are separated from their parents or guardians, the two enter very different legal tracks. In most cases, the parents will remain in detention centers until their cases are heard by immigration judges, at which point they will face immediate deportation.

Under President Trump’s family separation policy, hundreds of immigrant children were placed in state foster care facilities . In these cases, state family law often takes a harsh view of illegal entry. As a result, many undocumented parents will have a difficult time proving their right to reunification. In June, when he said he expected hundreds of cases “where children are permanently separated from their parents, becoming wards of the United States.”

Many of the facilities receiving these children, such as Cayuga Centers in New York, had already been caring for immigrant children for years. In 2014, the government awarded Cayuga Centers to fund shelter services for unaccompanied minor children. As a result, the organization was long-term care for hundreds of recently separated immigrant children.

Once in foster care, these children become wards of the state. This means they will have their care and custody decisions handled by state welfare agencies and then by a state court. During these proceedings the children’s parents will have the opportunity to demonstrate their eligibility for reunification but sadly, undocumented parents have often fared badly in such proceedings and this is especially true as the length of separation increases.

Role of state family law

Immigrant parents have the to the care and custody of their children as American citizens. Immigrant parents should be granted reunification with their children as long as they are deemed fit. However, history shows courts frequently use a parent’s immigration status as a proxy for fitness. State court decisions are also highly influenced by the parents’ residency in a country with high rates of violence and the child’s opportunity for adoption in the United States.

State courts and welfare agencies have frequently considered a parent’s undocumented status and their willingness to cross the border illegally as proof of parental unfitness sufficient to terminate parental rights.

For example, in , a case from 2009, a Nebraska juvenile court determined an undocumented mother was unfit based on the fact that she “either A) embarked on an unauthorized trip to the United States with a newborn premature infant or B) gave birth to a premature infant in the United States” after entering the country illegally. Without deciding between the two, the court held that either scenario demonstrated “that (the mother) did not provide the basic level of prenatal and postnatal care.”

In addition, courts have often demonstrated little sympathy for the fact that detention and deportation can make a parent’s efforts to reunite with their children extremely difficult. For example, in , another case from 2009, the trial court declared the undocumented father unfit because he had, “without good cause, failed to maintain continuing contact with and to provide or substantially plan for the future of the (children) for a period of six months after the child’s placement in foster care.”

The father challenged this decision. He argued his failure to maintain contact with his children was due to his incarceration and deportation, and was therefore not willful. However, the court found this explanation irrelevant.

For deported parents seeking reunification with their children, the prohibition on re-entry can be a major hurdle. It means parents cannot enter the U.S. to contest the termination of their parental rights. If parents do attempt re-entry after deportation they risk arrest, which further hampers their efforts to be reunited with their kids. Courts have that an undocumented immigrant’s motivations for illegal reentry are irrelevant, and thus treat deportation as abandonment.

A final issue is the efforts of third parties to gain custody of the removed children. The longer the children remain in foster care, the more likely it is that attachments will grow. Many of these foster families will seek to adopt these children.

In the past, courts, faced with the prospect of returning children to foreign countries versus allowing them to stay in America with an adoptive family, have often . They decide that to go home under such conditions is not in the children’s best interest. This, in the eyes of the court, justifies terminating their biological parents’ parental rights.

I believe it’s likely today’s separated families will have the same difficulties regaining custody. The policies the Trump administration is enforcing are for the most part . In 2014, during a surge in illegal border crossings, the Obama administration attempted to detain hundreds of families indefinitely.

Even before the 2014 surge, the Obama administration increased efforts to detain and deport undocumented immigrants within the U.S., resulting in numerous family separations. It is reasonable to expect that the eventual outcomes of today’s separations will mirror these earlier ones.The Conversation

 is a professor of family law at the University of South Carolina.

NewTowncarShare News Classifieds
  • in Southwest Colorado. $60K plus costs.
  • with six+ years of experience, broad knowledge of home and facilities maintenance. 207-805-4157,
  • Seeking full-time experienced farmer on 52-acre organic farm Union, OR. [email protected]
  • Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is seeking a Government Affairs Manager that is passionate about Western communities and the protection of the natural environment to support...
  • Metal roofing & siding, thru-fastened & seam profiles. Stronger, more attractive and longer lasting than any other panel on the market. 970-275-4070.
  • The Central Colorado Conservancy, a nationally accredited and state certified land trust, is seeking an innovative and dynamic Executive Director to guide the Conservancy into...
  • National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time, Lake Tahoe West Senior Project Lead. Position is responsible for working with the National Forest Foundation (NFF) to...
  • Forever Our Rivers Foundation seeks a driven and creative individual to lead this national movement for river health. Deadline 6/14/19.
  • We are looking for an experienced campaigner to lead our work challenging the oil and fracked gas industry, specifically focused on fighting fossil fuel expansion...
  • 7/12-7/14/19 in Taos, NM. With over 21 workshops and keynote speaker, poet Arthur Sze.
  • Badlands Conservation Alliance is seeking an Executive Director. For job description visit
  • NewTowncarShare News seeks a development assistant to help with fundraising campaigns. Strong candidates will have experience administering development programs, communicating with donors, and working...
  • Everland Mountain Retreat includes 318 mountaintop acres with a 3,200 square foot lodge and two smaller homes. Endless vistas of the Appalachian mountains, open skies,...
  • Spectacular views of snowcapped Sierras. 15 miles from Kings Canyon/Sequoia Parks. 47 acres with 2 homes/75' pool/gym/patios/gardens. 1670 sq.ft. main home has 3 bdrm/1 bath....
  • Beautiful off-the-grid passive solar near the CDT. 9.4 acres, north of Silver City. Sam, 575.388.1921
  • at RCAC. See the full description at Apply at [email protected]
  • Newly refurbished and tuned. Older model, great condition. Gasoline engine. Chains on tires. Heavy duty for mountain snow. Call cellphone and leave message or email.
  • Camping, hiking, backpacking, R2R2R, Tarahumara Easter, Mushroom Festival,
  • Clean off, cool off & drink. Multiple spray patterns. Better than you imagine. Try it.
  • Actively introduce students to Experiential Education, Outdoor Recreation, and Sustainability while engaging and challenging them to learn and participate in these diverse opportunities. Room, board,...