Editorials

Separating kids and parents was easy. Now, Trump administration must get hard job of reunification right.

Miami Herald Editorial Board

The Trump administration now seeks to unite 2,300 children with parents who crossed into the United States illegally.
The Trump administration now seeks to unite 2,300 children with parents who crossed into the United States illegally. Getty Images

Boldly — and blindly — heaping travesty upon tragedy, the Trump administration has no solid plan to reunite 2,300 children with their parents who crossed the Southern border illegally.

They’re working on it, but so far, the process is beyond flawed. Planning went into the misguided decision to separate kids from their migrant parents on such a grand scale. Detention centers, like the one in Homestead, in south Miami-Dade County, were ready to receive kids before the separation policy was announced last month. But the plan to reunite parents and children caught agencies charged with carrying it out unawares.

According to pbs.org, federal officials have set up hotlines and an email address for jailed parents and their relatives to find crucial information. And in Texas, for instance, lawyers and other advocates are going to courthouses and quickly scribbling down the names of their adult handcuffed clients, their children and any other pertinent information before the parents head into a hearing.

Names get misspelled sometimes, phone numbers, if known, transposed. And if a child has been transferred out of a government shelter and into a foster home in another state — Florida among them — the path to reunification becomes even rockier.

Despite good intentions, there can be no makeshift solutions. The administration should not put the onus on jailed migrants, flummoxed relatives or advocates to connect the dots between parents and their children.

Government created this unholy mess. Government needs to clean it up quickly. There are, incredibly, even newborn infants in local shelters.

Last month, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy. Migrants, mostly from Central America, who did not cross the border seeking asylum at designated checkpoints would be criminally prosecuted. Parents were taken to jail. Their children were shipped off to detention centers. After six weeks of public outrage, the damaging optics of tearful children and distraught parents and pushback from his own party, President Trump relented. On Wednesday, he signed an executive order rescinding the separation policy.

But so much damage had already been done.

Friday, the Department of Homeland Security said that 500 children had rejoined their parents. Other federal agencies are working to establish a centralized reunification center at the Port Isabel Detention Center in Texas.

U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, one of several federal lawmakers who toured the Homestead facility on Saturday, told the Editorial Board that separated parents and their children are given the same “alien number.” Matching them should expedite reunifications. However, the kids and parents are in separate databases.

“When they do the intake of the data at the border, the children are registered under Health and Human Services. The parents, because they are classified as breaking the law, are registered under the Department of Homeland Security,” Wilson said. “There are two separate databases that have never merged.”

Obviously, getting these two systems in sync will be of immeasurable help in determining the locations of mothers, fathers and children. It’s imperative that it be done.

As disquieting as the separations were, the administration now insists on continuing its punitive plan to detain families in likely untenable conditions in tents erected on military bases and the like.

Previous administrations, too, separated families, though not on this scale. Under President Obama, derisively named the Deporter-in-Chief, the administration actively put out advisories in Mexico and Central American countries that it would be unwise for people to make the dangerous trek north; it allowed those who had arrived illegally to be released to relatives while monitored with ankle bracelets.

Almost 100 percent had the integrity to show up for their court hearings.

As with all other issues, it seems, Trump must do his predecessor one better. In the case of the Central American migrants, however, his administration has made the situation worse, much worse.

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