BREAKING NEWS 7 dead in overnight shooting in Morgan County Full Story

Most toddlers still separated from families

A few dozen immigrant families are expected to be reunited by a court deadline Tuesday, as the fates of thousands more remain in limbo. CNN's Rosa Flores reports.

Posted: Jul 11, 2018 11:08 AM
Updated: Jul 11, 2018 11:36 AM

Ever Reyes Mejia held his son for the first time since they were separated months ago, and pressed his forehead against the smiling toddler's face. They stood outside a US Customs and Immigration Center in Michigan, Mejia clutching his son's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles backpack.

Tuesday marked the government's court-ordered deadline to return children under five years old, who were recently separated from their parents at the US border, to their families. The government earlier said it won't be able to reunite all those children by the deadline.

Mejia's son was one of three children reunited with their Honduran fathers in Grand Rapids on Tuesday. Reunifications also took place in other states, including Texas and Arizona.

Thirty-eight children under five years old, of the 102 identified, were returned to their families by Tuesday evening, according to a Health and Human Services official and an administration official. The HHS official says more reunions should be continuing "throughout the night."

"It has been a chaotic day," immigration rights attorney Abril Valdes told CNN affiliate WOOD outside the Grand Rapids center.

"We've been trying to get these parents reunified with their 3-year-olds, and we've been getting the runaround from ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), said Valdes, who works for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan. "Not until the last hour did we know it was going to happen here."

Part of the problem, immigration attorneys say, is that the parents and children are in the custody of different agencies. Parents are being held by ICE, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security. Children are being held by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The weeks or months of separation have taken a serious toll on the children, Valdes said. One 3-year-old boy who was waiting for reunification Tuesday is now "just a shell of himself," she said.

"He's not really talking," she said. "He's not the spunky 3-year-old that he always is. He's hardly saying anything or crying."

A father's wish to be there on his son's birthday

Walter Armando Jimenez Melendez, 29, had been apart from his son for 43 days, he told CNN in Spanish. Fleeing gangs, they left El Salvador to seek asylum in the United States.

Melendez said he was detained in Port Isabel and in Livingston, both in Texas. He didn't know where they took his son, Jeremy Issac Jimenez.

Immigration officials never told him where the child was located, though he was able to speak to him on the phone twice, Melendez said.

Jeremy turns five on Friday, Melendez said.

He had seen news reports that immigrants would be reunited with their children. He hoped he would he see his son by the weekend.

"I only asked God for it to be by Friday," he said.

'We don't know where their parents are'

Despite the deadline, dozens of toddlers will remain apart from their families while officials work to confirm parent-child relationships through DNA testing and find parents who've been released from custody or deported.

"There's eight children here in Michigan that are under the age of 5 that need to be reunified by today, according to the court order," Valdes said early Tuesday afternoon.

But out of those eight, only three had a chance at imminent reunification. Those three met their parents later Tuesday.

As for the others, "one parent has already been deported ... and then the other four, we don't know where their parents are, and we don't know when the reunifications are going to take place," Valdes said.

The ACLU has said networks of attorneys and NGOs will work to help the government locate and communicate with deported parents. Officials are scheduled to discuss that procedure in court later this week.

But in the meantime, across the country, many young migrant children from separated families will have to wait longer to see their moms and dads.

According to the latest information released in court, the parents of at least 12 children under age 5 have already been deported. The total number of parents who were separated from their kids and deported without them is likely far higher.

Officials defend pace of reunifications

Government officials said they're taking precautions to ensure the safety of the children, which is part of the reason why it's taking a while to reunite families.

"Our process may not be as quick as some would like, but there is no question that it is protecting children," Chris Meekins of the Department of Health and Human Services told reporters Tuesday.

"Let me be clear: HHS could have transferred every child out of ORR care to a parent who is in DHS custody today, if we did not take into account child safety or if the adult is actually a parent."

Government starts DNA testing for separated kids and parents

'We were thrilled for them'

While much work is left to be done, some young children and caretakers celebrated in Phoenix on Tuesday.

Two vans seen leaving children's facilities in Phoenix were carrying youngsters to be reunited with their parents, a source with knowledge of the transfer said.

Juan Sánchez, CEO of the children's aid group Southwest Key, said his staff helped prepare children in its care for their reunifications Tuesday.

"Our staff came in early, made sure every backpack was full and every child got a hug and a goodbye," he said. "And the kids hugged us back. They were excited to be on their way to be with their families. And we were thrilled for them."

'I'm going step by step'

In Arizona, Josue Rodriguez kissed his 3-year-old son's neck after being separated from him for 40 days.

"Dad, where were you?" Rodriguez recalled the toddler asking. "I missed you."

Like many immigrants, Rodriguez fled crime and poverty in Honduras, he said in Spanish during an interview at a Greyhound bus station.

He would not have come to the United States if he'd known he would be separated from his son, Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez was detained in the Stewart Detention Center in Georgia. The Southern Poverty Law Center represented him in his asylum case and worked to get him information about his son, said SPLC spokeswoman Jen Fuson.

He said he was bound for Virginia with his family.

"I'm going step by step, by what God says," Rodriguez said.

'I want everything for him to be happiness'

In Texas, Melendez's prayer was answered: he and his son were together again by Friday.

Melendez held him tight, kissing him on the forehead and burying his head in his son's shoulder.

Now the two of them are bound for Rock Hill, South Carolina, he said, where Melendez's wife and 9-year-old stepson have lived for more than a year. His next court date is July 30.

Melendez cried briefly and wiped his tears away.

"Sometimes I try to be strong because I don't want to show him sadness," he said. "From here on out, I want everything for him to be happiness, that he tries to forget all of this time that he was separated from me as soon as possible."

Huntsville
Overcast
72° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 72°
Florence
Broken Clouds
78° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 71°
Feels Like: 80°
Fayetteville
Overcast
73° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 73°
Decatur
Overcast
73° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 73°
Scottsboro
Broken Clouds
72° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 72°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 18766

Reported Deaths: 651
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Mobile2321118
Jefferson1901104
Montgomery185843
Tuscaloosa83616
Marshall7089
Franklin5858
Lee56234
Shelby52819
Tallapoosa43466
Butler42118
Walker3862
Elmore3749
Chambers36026
Madison3534
Unassigned3062
Morgan3021
Baldwin2939
Dallas2923
Lowndes26512
Etowah26312
DeKalb2573
Autauga2415
Coffee2391
Sumter2287
Houston2265
Bullock2176
Pike2120
Colbert1902
Hale1859
Russell1810
Barbour1771
Marengo1756
Lauderdale1722
Calhoun1673
Wilcox1577
Choctaw15310
Cullman1521
Clarke1492
St. Clair1351
Randolph1287
Dale1240
Marion12411
Pickens1205
Talladega1195
Limestone1080
Chilton1071
Greene954
Macon934
Winston910
Jackson833
Covington821
Henry822
Crenshaw783
Bibb761
Escambia753
Washington736
Blount631
Lawrence510
Monroe462
Geneva440
Perry430
Conecuh411
Coosa401
Cherokee383
Clay282
Lamar280
Fayette160
Cleburne151

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 25190

Reported Deaths: 401
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Shelby5546124
Davidson551666
Trousdale13944
Rutherford134328
Hamilton96419
Sumner93846
Lake8350
Bledsoe6101
Williamson58911
Putnam5246
Robertson5235
Tipton4613
Wilson4498
Knox4355
Out of TN4264
Bedford2974
Montgomery2863
Rhea2170
Hardeman2020
Madison1732
Bradley1661
Macon1663
Loudon1610
Unassigned1610
McMinn14614
Fayette1362
Cheatham1350
Dickson1200
Cumberland1202
Maury1071
Sevier972
Blount933
Coffee780
Washington750
Monroe713
Wayne640
Gibson631
Sullivan602
Lauderdale591
Hickman580
Dyer570
Franklin541
Greene522
Unicoi480
Obion453
Marion441
Hamblen422
Anderson422
DeKalb380
Smith361
Hawkins342
Marshall331
Lawrence330
Haywood332
White330
Cannon320
Overton320
Henry320
Grundy311
Lincoln290
Jefferson290
Carroll281
Meigs270
Warren260
Weakley260
Perry240
Hardin222
Cocke210
Sequatchie200
Johnson190
Polk190
Jackson190
Carter191
Campbell181
Morgan170
Crockett162
Roane160
Henderson150
Humphreys151
McNairy150
Grainger130
Giles130
Stewart130
Claiborne120
Scott120
Fentress120
Chester120
Clay80
Houston80
Benton71
Moore50
Decatur50
Van Buren40
Union40
Lewis30
Pickett30
Hancock10

 

 

Community Events