Government officials are due in federal court Thursday to deliver a list of parents held in ICE detention considered ineligible for reunification with their children. The update comes as Catholics and other organizations continue to call for policies that prioritize the family.
While government officials insist that in some cases there may be security concerns about parents, prominent Catholics have called for end to the separation of families.
Dr. Joseph Capizzi, a professor of moral theology at the Catholic University of America, told CNA that the “vast majority” of families in separation cases pose no threat to U.S. security. Instead, Capizzi said that Catholics should look to fix the reasons people are leaving their home countries for the United States. Otherwise, he said, there will be no end to the immigration issue.
Many of the parents are seeking asylum in the United States, citing violent or deprived conditions in their home countries.
Capizzi said the United States “needs always to couple our border policies with compassion for the dignity of families and of human beings.”
“As Bishop Flores [of Brownsville, Texas] said, we must join with other countries in Central America and address the ‘push’ factors that lead to the risky and numerous emigrations of so many people from those countries.”
“Until we look at this as a problem involving the unhealthy ‘human ecologies’ of these places, the U.S. will continue to face immigration issues.”
The government has until July 26 to reunite children currently in custody with their parents, but progress has been limited. Health and Human Services officials told a district court judge on Monday that they were unable to locate or identify the parents of 71 children in custody.
Appearing before Judge Dana Sabraw on Monday, Jonathan White, HHS assistant secretary for preparedness and response, admitted that of the 2,551 children in federal custody believed to be separated they had only confirmed matches with 2,480 parents, 1,609 of whom are also in custody.
Efforts to reunite families have been hindered by the government vetting process for undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers, which relies on DNA verification and criminal background checks, but questions have been raised about the standards being applied.
The American Civil Liberties Union, acting for the families, asked Judge Sabraw to clarify what kind of crimes make a parent ineligible for reunification, noting that some, like petty theft, have no bearing on the ability to care for their child but may factor in judging eligibility.
Of the 46 children under 5 still in government custody, 22 are considered ineligible for reunion with parents due to safety concerns.
Government officials insist that these cases involve serious criminal history by the parent, including suspected child abuse, or instances where the child was brought to the United States by someone other than a parent.
Also Monday, in answer to concerns that the government was expediting deportations of separated families once they are reunited, Judge Sabraw ordered a halt to deportations of adult family members for at least a week after reunification. The order came in response to an emergency motion filed by the ACLU.
Despite some concerns about the pace of reunification, efforts to meet the July 26 deadline continue. Judge Sabraw has said that he is “very encouraged” and “optimistic” about the “real progress” being made. "Reunification can happen quickly and safely,” he said, noting, in reposes to government concerns about proper vetting procedures, that speed and safety are “not mutually exclusive.”
“HHS is responsible for this and can do it well."
Last week, the Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) of the USCCB issued a joint statement with Catholic Charities USA detailing their efforts to assist with the reunification efforts.
"As we have long done, CCUSA and Migration and Refugee Services of USCCB are lending our experience and expertise to support Catholic Charities agencies in their efforts to reunite families and care for immigrant children during this sensitive time,” the organizations said.
MRS and CCUSA said they were “strongly opposed” to the policies that resulted in families being separated, and they will “remain committed to working to ensure their safe reunification.”
“Protection of families is a foundational element of Catholic Social Teaching and this moment calls on all people of good will to lend a hand to reunite these children with their parents."
Ed Condon contributed to this report.