A pair of 4-year-old children separated from their fathers at the U.S.-Mexico border and taken to a South Florida migrant shelter were returned to their parents Tuesday, a law firm representing the families told the Miami Herald.
The kids, a boy and girl from Honduras and Guatemala, were the first immigrant children in Florida to be returned to their parents following President Donald Trump’s short-lived “zero tolerance” immigration policy, said Jennifer Anzardo Valdes, the director of the Children’s Legal Program at Americans for Immigrant Justice.
"The children were successfully reunited. Families are doing great and very happy to be together," Valdes told the Herald in an email Tuesday evening.
The small children are among the more than 50 immigrant kids around the country under the age of 5 that the Trump administration said it would reunite with their parents by a Tuesday deadline imposed by California U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw last month.
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Since Trump’s “zero tolerance” was announced in April, more than 2,000 kids have been separated from their parents and shipped off to shelters across the country.
The two families whose kids ended up in South Florida crossed into the U.S. separately, one in mid-May and the other in early June, Anzardo Valdes said.
The children were then taken from their dads to one of three immigrant shelters in Miami-Dade County, the name of which Americans for Immigrant Justice said it cannot disclose.
The law firm represents immigrant children living in Miami-Dade County’s three immigrant shelters — located in Homestead, Cutler Bay and Miami Gardens — and adults being held in detention centers throughout the state.
Last month, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat from Florida, told the Miami Herald there were 265 separated children spread across the Dade shelters. That included 10 kids who were under 5 years old.
Despite repeated requests made by members of her staff, Wasserman Schultz has not received updated numbers from the Department of Health and Human Services.
“Even after a call purportedly to provide a detailed update to Members of Congress, the Trump Administration has provided only vague and evasive answers regarding the ages, status and numbers of children separated from their families at our border,” Wasserman Schultz said in a statement following a Friday conference call with the Department of Health and Human Services. “It is outrageous and unacceptable. The American people, in whose name this heartless policy has been carried out, deserve detailed answers immediately."
HHS, which runs the Office of Refugee Resettlement, has not responded to a request for comment.
The father from Guatemala told the law firm that he went two weeks without speaking with his child, and that during their first phone call, the child was crying uncontrollably.
“I think the trauma is evident when you meet the children,” Anzardo Valdes said. “It’s evident that they will continue to be haunted by this.”
Anzardo Valdes said the children’s parents, who had been detained at an ICE facility in Florida, were released to rejoin their children, pending immigration proceedings.
“We’re grateful the family reunification is taking place,” she said. “It’s been really challenging working with these children.”
The administration said about 40 other young children separated from their parents at the border cannot yet be returned to their parents because they have yet to positively match them or because the parents have not yet been cleared to take custody, the Washington Post reported.
Following a class-action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Judge Sabraw also imposed a July 26 deadline for the Trump administration to return children 5 and older.
“The court is holding the Trump administration’s feet to the fire to get these kids reunited with their parents,” the ACLU said in a statement issued Monday. “That’s the most important thing. It’s extremely disappointing the government will not be in full compliance with the court order, but the judge has stepped in to manage this mess of the administration’s making.”