The girls were released by the government to their father in Virginia, with whom they were not close. Juana, who asked to be identified by her first name to avoid being tracked down by people who want to harm her, was deported back to Honduras. She moved into a shelter for victimized migrants in a different city.
When she was contacted by the U.S. government about whether she wanted her girls to be deported as well, she said, it was one of the hardest decisions she had ever had to make.
“I’m not safe,” she said. “I’m in a shelter. I don’t go out at all.”
She said the girls were struggling without her, especially her youngest, who is going through puberty. “They cry when we talk on the phone. They say they miss me, that they want us to be back together again,” she said, adding, “Girls need their mother.”
The efforts to reunify separated families have been marred by poor record-keeping since they began in the summer of 2018. That is in part because the practice of separating families as a deterrent to the thousands of migrant families arriving at the border was at first introduced covertly; even the federal agencies that became involved, such as the Department of Health and Human Services, which was responsible for housing separated children, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which took custody of the parents, were not fully informed ahead of time.
When H.H.S. case workers began their efforts to track down the families of children they encountered, as is customary for any child in federal custody, they discovered that the immigration authorities had not, in many cases, kept records of who each child’s parents were or how to reach them.
And because the computer system used by border authorities for processing incoming migrants had not been updated to accommodate family separations, the agents often inadvertently deleted identification numbers that could have been used to keep track when parents and children were sent to different places.
The initial court order to reunite separated families led to a monthslong effort by workers at multiple federal agencies who worked through long nights and weekends to track down the parents of separated children, which often required culling through records by hand for clues as to who their parents were.