As the federal government struggled to reunite migrant children with their parents last year, after the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy led to thousands of family separations at the southern U.S. border, a group of nearly 40 migrant children waited 39 hours in vans for their reunification process to finalize.
According to GQ, in July 2018, a total of 37 detained migrant children were taken by van to the Port Isobel Detention Center for reunification with their families. But Immigration and Customs Enforcement was ill prepared for the process, and the children spent two nights sleeping in vans in the facility parking lot.
The story, first reported by NBC News, involved “most of the 5- to 12-year-olds waiting at least 23 hours in the center's parking lot.”
GQ said NBC News obtained emails from “BCFS Heath and Human Services, a nonprofit and government contractor that was responsible for transporting the children,” and those emails revealed a haphazard process for reuniting the children with their parents.
At 10:30 p.m. local time Sunday, July 15, 2018, Andrew Carter, the BCFS regional director responsible for the children, e-mailed Kevin Dinnin, the company's president and CEO, to alert him to the fact that the 37 children had been waiting for eight hours and not a single one had been processed for reunification.
"The children were initially taken into the facility, but were then returned to the van as the facility was still working on paperwork," explained Carter. "The children were brought back in later in the evening, but returned to the vans because it was too cold in the facility and they were still not ready to be processed in."
Health and Human Services is the federal agency responsible for the care of migrant children in federal custody, but a former official told NBC News that the Department of Homeland Security — ICE’s parent agency — was to blame for the situation.
"DHS was clearly not ready to deal with the separations and did not take steps necessary to ensure a speedy reunification with their parents," the official told NBC News. They added that "the impact on the kids would have been much less" if DHS had its act together.