Washington D.C., Feb 5, 2019 / 03:51 pm (CNA).- In a court filing last week, the Trump administration argued that it may not be possible to reunite thousands of migrant parents with their children, who are living in sponsor homes, and that such reunions could be “disruptive and harmful” to the children.
“It would destabilize the permanency of their existing home environment, and could be traumatic to the children,” said Jonathan White, deputy director for children’s programs at the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement, according to the Associated Press.
He argued that removing children from sponsor homes “would present grave child welfare concerns” and said the agency should focus its resources on reuniting children in government custody with their parents, rather than children who are currently with sponsors.
Last May, the Department of Homeland Security began referring all people crossing the U.S. border illegally to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution. As a result, thousands of families were separated, as children cannot legally be held in federal jails with their parents.
A U.S. District judge has ordered the Trump administration to stop separating children from their parents at the border, and to reunite those who are separated. The ACLU is pushing for the court order to apply to children who were released to sponsors before the June 2018 ruling.
However, Jallyn Sualog, deputy director of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, said in the filing Friday that the office lacks the personnel and resources to track and find all of the children.
As a result, reuniting them all with their parents may not be “within the realm of possible,” HHS said, according to NBC News.
Sualog said the government does not have the legal authority to remove the children from their sponsors, and that “doing so would be so disruptive and harmful to the child.”
Most of the children are currently with relatives, the Associated Press reported – 49 percent of those released to sponsors in the 2017 fiscal year were placed with their parents, 41 percent with a close relative, and 10 percent with a distant relative, family friend or someone else.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, whose longtime criticism of U.S. migration policy has become more prominent under the Trump administration, has repeatedly rejected the practice of separating children and parents.
“Children are not instruments of deterrence but a blessing from God,” Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, chair of the bishops’ migration committee, said in June 2018.
Separating families at the U.S. border “does not allay security concerns,” he said, adding, “Rupturing the bond between parent and child causes scientifically-proven trauma that often leads to irreparable emotional scarring.”
In June 2018, the United Nations human rights office condemned the U.S. practice of separating migrant children from their parents at the border as “a serious violation of the rights of the child.”