Special Report: What is next for migrant children separated from family?

Posted at 6:22 PM, Jun 26, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-26 19:22:45-04

As national lawmakers continue you to argue about  immigration reform, thousands of children separated from their parents, who tried to enter the county illegally, wait and wonder about their futures.

They have become the poster children of an emotional debate.

While they wait for laws to change, who looks out for their needs, and when will they be reunited with their parents? Those are some of the tough questions heard in communities surrounding border detention centers.

Citing privacy concerns, the Department of Health and Human Services tightly controls access to the inside of these shelters across the U.S. However, KRIS 6 News did have access the church groups and volunteers who offer whatever help they can to migrant children.

For them, it is not political. It is about humanity. 

Yet while those groups can address the basic needs of these migrant children, but one thing they cannot provide is the the comfort and love of a parent. 

New video released today was secretly recorded last week by a former worker inside a New York facility for unaccompanied migrant children.

"Why are you crying?" the worker asks.

"I want to talk to my mom," a young girl named Jessica says through tears in the video.

"You want to speak to your dad?" the worker questions.

"With my mom," the little girl clarifies. 

Scenes like that, migrant children longing for their moms and dads, are scenes that volunteer Juanita Valdez-Voz says she is seeing in South Texas. 

"If the children are crying, that’s when you think, they need their mothers," Valdez-Cox, Executive Director of La Union Del Pueblo Entero (LUPE), said. 

Roughly 2,000 migrant kids remain in 100 shelters across 17 states. 

Valdez-Cox wonders how and *when these kids will be reunited with their families. 

"A nine-month-old baby boy, a one-year-old baby girl, how can they know who the parents are for these children? Especially the very young that can’t say their name or their parents name," she said. 

Beyond the trauma of being alone, many kids who recently crossed the border are also sick.

"What I’m hearing from doctors that have been here, they’ve seen a number of children after they leave the detainment facility that have fevers to 102, 103, are dehydrated, are malnourished," Dr. Aaron Bodansky, M.D., Senior Resident in Pediatrics at a Houston-Area Hospital, said. 

With hundreds of migrant children being held at the Ursula Detention Center in McAllen, the nation’s largest immigration processing center, Texas pediatricians are concerned about infectious diseases and other health hazards.

"If you’ve got hundreds of kids in close proximity, infectious diseases are going to spread," Dr. Bodansky said. 

Dr. Bodansky traveled to the Ursula Detention Center from Houston, representing 122 other pediatricians.

The Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services say they are providing medical care to migrant children there. 

A U.S. Border Patrol spokesperson also tells KRIS 6 News that "Border Patrol takes seriously its responsibility of caring for those in its custody," adding that the Rio Grande Valley Sector contracts healthcare  to several medics, and that care is available seven days a week, 24 hours a day. 

Dr. Bodansky wanted to see what kind of care the children are receiving for himself, but was unable to get access to the facility. 

"I can’t rest easy until I can say the civilian pediatricians here agree with the Health and Homeland services. This is an emergency," he said. 

Meanwhile, hundreds of immigrants continue to arrive in the U.S. and are processed in federal court every day. 

One who arrived this week, Rosalba Lissbeth Najera Majia, and her 17-year-old daughter, say they fled gang violence in El Salvador.  Because they were sponsored by family members in the U.S., mom and daughter were not separated at the border. 

However, they say that fear loomed over them.

"It hurts that they separate us from our children. It’s not fair that they do this. Because we see it as we are walking forward, and we get here and they separate us. And we suffer," Najera Majia said, in Spanish. 

Now the two will move forward with their immigration cases together.

However for the thousands of migrant kids still apart from their moms and dads, many worry not only about immediate needs, but also about the long-term psychological impact of separation. 

"Of course they’re going to suffer trauma," Valdez-Cox said. "We don’t know what that’s going to look like in the children once they are older."

The Trump administration has released a plan for reuniting the thousands of families separated at the border.  Under the plan, those children will be kept in custody until parents’ deportation proceedings are completed.  Then families will either be re-united before deportation or after the parent applies to serve as the child’s sponsor. 

The executive order signed by President Trump last week has also ended the practice of separating families at the border going forward.