Seven immigrant children who are still in the care of a Kansas nonprofit under contract with the federal government after being separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border face bureaucratic barriers to reunification that range from a backlog in processing their parents' fingerprints to the cost of airfare, the attorney representing the children said Wednesday.
"I am frustrated by the policies that the (Office of Refugee Resettlement) has put in place that are barriers to these families," said immigration lawyer Clare Murphy Shaw.
The federal Office of Refugee Resettlement has expanded the number of people they require to be fingerprinted before receiving children released from the care to the point that there are now backlogs to getting fingerprinting appointments, Shaw said.
The holdup in reuniting one of the children she represents who's housed at a nonprofit called The Villages, Inc. in Topeka is a backlog in processing the parents' fingerprints. In that case, the child has been waiting at least three weeks since the mother was released from detention.
The Office of Refugee Resettlement did not immediately respond to phone and email messages left with its media office.
Another barrier is the cost of reunification, which involves the $1,000 or more in airfare for the child and an accompanying adult to travel from Kansas that must be paid by the families. That is a substantial amount, especially for families who have recently arrived, she said.
"I am actually launching a fund to collect money to assist families with the cost of reunification as much as I can because ORR is unable to pay for their costs — at least that is their policy currently, it hasn't always been that way," Shaw said.
Her law firm, the McCrummen Immigration Law Group, founded the Asylum Clinic KC in 2017 in an effort to address the legal needs of asylum seekers in the Kansas City area.
Former U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said forcing families to pay for airfare to reunite children is "morally reprehensible" and members of Congress should say these costs shouldn't be borne by families when the government separated them over a misdemeanor.
In some of the cases, reunification is also complicated by the fact some parents of the children in Kansas are still being held in detention centers along the border, Shaw said. Some are waiting to see what happens with their own asylum claims before deciding whether to reunite with their children or place them with a sponsor in the United States if the parents are going to be deported.
The Kansas Department for Children and Families said on June 25 that it visited The Villages and inspected its four group homes outside of Topeka. The DCF said that of the 44 children in placement, nine were separated from their parents and the rest were unaccompanied minors. The Villages is licensed to care for children ages 6 to 17.
It's unclear how many separated children are now at the facility in Kansas. DCF referred that question to The Villages, which did not respond to phone messages.
But Shaw, who has a contract to visit all the children at The Villages to inform them of their rights and to provide legal representation as needed, said the seven separated children she represents are still at the facility.