On Tuesday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) sent a separated child from the U.S. to Guatemala City without notifying her family in advance that she was coming home, according to the Huffington Post, which cites Kids In Need Of Defense and Reddit as its sources. As a result, no one came to pick her up at a reunification center near the airport.
The 4-year-old, who was separated from her deported father six months ago, ended up spending a night in a government-run shelter in Guatemala City because her father didn’t show up, said Lisa Frydman, KIND’s director of regional and policy initiatives.
“Just imagining this 4-year-old going back [home] after months and months of separation … and then her dad didn’t show up after all of this,” Frydman said. “The trauma level is unimaginable.”
Immigration and legal experts accuse ICE of sending children back to Central America without properly notifying parents, according to the Huffington Post report, which noted the Department of Justice recently said ICE is only handling only “a relatively small number” of repatriation cases.
According to the ACLU, there are still 219 children in the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s (ORR) custody whose parents have been deported because of the Trump administration’s immigration policies.
Lee Gelernt, the lead lawyer in the ACLU case, says parents are forced to choose between permanent separation or sending their kids back home. “The government is often not taking even the most minimal steps to ensure the reunification is being done without inflicting additional emotional damage on the families,” Gelernt said. “I think every additional night a child spends in a shelter causes more damage.”
Frydman said when ICE gives ORR staff a list of kids leaving the U.S. so that case workers can contact parents, the list lacks pertinent details, such as travel itineraries, and it is often sent only just a few hours before the children land in Central America.
In the case of the 4-year-old girl, Frydman saw her name on a government list late Monday evening but no itinerary was included. Tuesday morning, ORR confirmed with ICE that the child was en route to Guatemala City and the flight would land in 20 minutes. The girl’s father, however, lives eight hours from Guatemala City, so he wasn’t able to pick her up.