Baltimore Group Caring For Migrant Children, Working To Reunite Them With Parents

Jun 22, 2018
Originally published on June 22, 2018 7:39 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Even though the Trump administration has ended its policy of separating migrant children from their families, there are at least 2,300 children who have already been separated. And many of them have been transported to shelters across the country. Now it's unclear if, when and how they will be reunited with their parents. NPR's Nurith Aizenman caught up with a group caring for these kids in Baltimore. And she joins us there. Hi, Nurith.

NURITH AIZENMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Audie.

CORNISH: Tell us more about who you've been talking to.

AIZENMAN: So we visited Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. It's based in Baltimore, but it's an umbrella organization that's overseeing a whole network of nonprofit organizations across the country that the government basically subcontracts with to provide what's supposed to be really short-term foster homes for children coming across the border.

And originally that was supposed to be mostly older kids - 14-, 15-, 16-year-olds who were coming on their own unaccompanied, often to be reunited with the parent in the U.S. And this network also provides case managers who then follow up and try to connect the kids with their relatives in the U.S. that they could stay with while their cases go through immigration court. This is a system that's been in place for a while, this network.

CORNISH: But now the situation has changed, right?

AIZENMAN: Yeah. So it's very different. Since at least January of this year and then of course really in the last six weeks, they've been seeing more and more of the kids that are coming into this temporary foster care are kids who were separated from a parent at the border. Just to give you an idea, at any given time, this network has about 117 children in their care and used to be virtually all unaccompanied kids. Now 50 percent of them are children who got separated from their parent at the border. And it's a very different sort of population of kids. They tend to be much younger. So when it comes to reuniting them with family, all this makes it a much bigger challenge. Here's Dawnya Underwood. She's director for Children and Family Services with the group.

DAWNYA UNDERWOOD: There are times where you have the infants who aren't able to communicate, yeah, my parent is, you know, such and such, you know, whomever. And case managers turn into investigators.

AIZENMAN: Yeah, so these kids are showing up in this foster system with very little identifying information and often no information about who their parents are, who their families are. And so these case managers, we're told, often just have to wait for the parent who's in custody to somehow reach them, call the hotline and get through somehow. And then once that parent is located, they're not in a position to receive their child. They're locked up. So that creates another delay. So whereas before it would take about 30 days to get the child placed with a relative, now it's taking about 50 days. And again, that's not necessarily to get the kid to their parent, just to any relative that they know in the U.S.

CORNISH: Right. But for those kids, it's every day without a parent.

AIZENMAN: Yeah. And people say that, you know, that delay - just every day of being apart from their parent, especially given the circumstances under which they were separated, is so difficult. You've got these little kids showing up at the airport at 1 in the morning to be picked up by the foster family. Here's Dawnya Underwood again talking about what she's been hearing from the foster care families about these kids.

UNDERWOOD: A very young kiddo - about 18 months - arriving to the program and wanting to be held, children just crying and asking for their parents in the middle of the night.

AIZENMAN: Yeah. And people here are saying that they don't believe that the situation is going to be resolved anytime soon.

CORNISH: NPR's Nurith Aizenman, thank you so much.

AIZENMAN: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.