Did The Government Meet The Deadline To Reunite Migrant Families?

Jul 27, 2018
Originally published on July 27, 2018 10:08 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

There are two ways of looking at yesterday's deadline to reunite immigrant families. On the one hand, the Trump administration says it has reunited all of the eligible families who were separated under its zero-tolerance policy. On the other hand, hundreds of kids are still in government custody. They are not with their parents, and it's not clear when or even if they'll be reunited. Our colleague Ari Shapiro, who hosts All Things Considered, is in South Texas reporting from the border.

Good morning, Ari.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Hi, Noel.

KING: So you were watching this reunification process happen at the last minute yesterday. What did you see?

SHAPIRO: Yeah. We were in McAllen, Texas, which is sort of the easternmost edge of the U.S.-Mexico border. And we were at the bus station, which is where a lot of the detainees are first released from these detention centers. And so you see big groups of people looking kind of bewildered, a lot of them wearing ankle monitors, holding big manila envelopes. Written in Sharpie on the envelope is cities around the South where they're going to board buses and go to, whether that's Shreveport, Atlanta, Orlando.

And there were activists trying to help these immigrants. One of them who I spoke with was named Dr. Melba Salazar-Lucio. She's with a group called Angry Tias & Abuelas, which means angry aunts and grandmothers. And she was looking out for the families at the bus station. Initially, her organization was handing out backpacks with food and supplies. They were told not to do that, and so then she started just handing out money.

MELBA SALAZAR-LUCIO: There was a teacher from Austin that came. She's like, well, I've got to leave. She handed me $2,000 cash.

SHAPIRO: Wow.

And she said she was just distributing about $10 per person, so a family of four would get $40 to help them start on their way.

KING: Wow - just a little bit the help there.

And I imagine you also spent some time yesterday talking to parents. What did you hear from them?

SHAPIRO: Yeah. I want to play you a bit of tape from a woman named Maria (ph). We're only using her first name because she's afraid of violence against her family back in Central America. She was separated from her son six weeks ago. He is 7 years old. And she said that in the detention center where she was held, the guards would mock her and the other mothers for crying over their lost kids.

MARIA: (Through interpreter) They yell at you. They tell you, why did you come to the United States? And that because we cried too much for our kids, we were just putting on a show and that if they were going to reunite us, it was going to be to deport us. They don't want more children here, and they don't want to provide refuge for immigrants.

SHAPIRO: Our colleague John Burnett had that conversation with Maria yesterday morning. And late last night, we got word from her lawyer that she was - almost close to midnight, right at the deadline - reunited with her 7-year-old son for the first time in almost two months.

KING: Wow. So the big question is, has the government actually met this court-ordered deadline, or haven't they?

SHAPIRO: Well, the government said yesterday that it's reunited about 1,400 children over the age of 5 with their parents. And they said that's everyone who is eligible. But there are more than 700 kids whose parents are not deemed eligible because maybe they've failed DNA tests to prove that they're a parent, or they failed a criminal background check. Or maybe they've already been deported. And so civil rights lawyers say it's premature for the Trump administration to declare victory over a problem of the administration's own making that these civil rights activists say is not yet solved.

KING: Ari, you have been in Texas. And you're headed into Mexico next?

SHAPIRO: Yes. This morning we're going into Mexico. We're going to talk with people who are still hoping and trying to cross over in spite of the new hurdles that have gone up recently. We're going to be here for a week, and we're going to be telling a bunch of stories in that time. Another one is about the business of immigration detention. We're going to be looking at a new facility that just opened here two years after a detention center in the same place closed down.

KING: Ari Shapiro, one of the hosts of NPR's All Things Considered.

Thank you so much, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Thanks, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.