For Many Immigrant Families, the Fight for Reunification Is Just the Beginning

President Donald Trump signed an executive order June 20 purporting to end immigrant family separations at US border with Mexico. Four days later, the departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services announced a plan to reunite approximately 2,000 children who were taken from their parents at the border between April and the time the executive order was signed.

Immigration advocates have noted many shortcomings with the executive order. They also emphasize the logistical difficulties parents are experiencing as they try to locate and contact their children.

Sadly, I believe these hurdles are only the tip of the iceberg. One thing few people currently realize – despite reassuring words from the administration – is many of these families will most likely never be reunited.

I’ve been writing about the impact of the US government’s immigration policies on undocumented families for years. The policies the Trump administration is enforcing, especially after the new executive order, are for the most part similar to those first enacted under President Obama. In 2014, during a surge in illegal border crossings, the Obama administration attempted to detain hundreds of families indefinitely – until the practice was legally challenged and stopped. This is essentially the same policy the Trump administration has adopted under the executive order.

Even before the 2014 surge, the Obama administration increased efforts to detain and deport undocumented immigrants within the US, resulting in numerous family separations. It is reasonable to expect that the eventual outcomes of today’s separations will mirror these earlier ones.

The Role of State Family Law

The biggest issue is how family law views detained undocumented parents. When immigrant children are separated from their parents, they enter two different legal tracks. The parents will likely remain in detention centers until their cases are heard by immigration judges. Most will face immediate…

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