Dozens of young children were reunited with their parents yesterday after being separated at the border under the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy. The government is still working to reunite many more children with their parents, some of whom are being held at a detention center in Aurora, Colorado.
“They certainly never anticipated this type of cruel punishment,” says Lunn, who estimates that roughly 50 parents are still detained there.
Her clients have several things in common: They fled Guatemala, each with a six-year-old son, entered the U.S. in mid-May and were subsequently arrested and separated from their children, who are now in Arizona, Texas and New York.
Lunn can’t speak to specifics of her clients’ cases, but she says that “they all fled due to extreme danger.”
“The purpose of them coming to the United States was to protect their kids, and they are facing a huge amount of guilt because the people that they were trying to protect were then taken from them and put in precarious situations,” says Lunn.
Lunn’s clients have told her that their children ask on the phone if they’re being punished for something.
“Each one of them talks to me about how it feels like torture,” she says. “Each one of the mothers I’m working with has complained about not being able to eat, not being able to sleep, feeling incredibly anxious and depressed and worried about the wellbeing of their children.”
In a statement about reunification, the Department of Homeland Security claimed on its website in June that “This process is well coordinated.” But according to NPR, the Trump administration had only managed to reunite about half of the 102 children under 5 years old that a federal judge required it to reunite with parents by July 10.
The Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network estimates that roughly 20 of the parents the group has worked with were released from Aurora, and only two of them are with their children again.
“The reunification process is completely up in the air,” says Lunn. “From the information that I’ve been receiving from my clients, it sounds as though Immigration and Customs Enforcement very recently started doing DNA tests to ensure that they’re matching parents up with their children. However, I just talked to someone from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and it sounds like the onus is very much on the parents to try and reunite with their children.”
Additionally, should her clients be released, she says, it’s unclear whether they will have access to their own DNA tests to use as proof that the kids are theirs. One of the women is expected to be released any day. When she is, Lunn says, she’s planning to head straight to Texas to try and find her son.
As Fox News has reported, a federal judge ruled Tuesday that “DNA testing needed to be done only when parentage couldn't be proven through birth certificates or other ways, or when the lack of a DNA test would prolong family separation. The samples should be destroyed in 7 days and not used for any other purposes.” TIME has reported that such DNA testing practices come with a host of ethical problems.
The government has until July 26 to reunify children of all ages with their parents.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.