ICE Kept Migrant Kids In Vans For 39 Hours During Botched Family Reunifications


New horrors are emerging about how migrant kids were treated during Trump’s “Zero Tolerance” policy and its aftermath

It’s been a year since the country was alerted to the Trump Administration’s “Zero Tolerance” policy, which led to thousands of migrant children being separated from their parents after being detained at the border – and it’s been 11 months since a federal judge ordered all migrant families to be reunited, under threat of the law. Still, though, children fleeing terrible conditions in Central America are suffering at the hands of the U.S. government, and some of the horrors experienced by migrant children last summer are just now coming to light.

Most recently, NBC News released a disturbing chain of emails between BCFS Heath and Human Services — a non-profit organization — and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), outlining a totally botched family reunification attempt in Texas last July that left children in hot vans for up to 39 hours because ICE was totally unprepared to process them and hand them over to their parents.

According to the emails, 37 children were transported by BCFS by van from Harlingen to Los Fresnos in order to be reunited with the parents they were torn from at the border. But when the kids, who were between 5 and 12 years old, arrived at the facility, they found a sweltering parking lot filled with other vans of kids waiting for their parents, and ICE officials who wouldn’t let the kids enter the detention center.

“The children were initially taken into the facility, but were then returned to the van as the facility was still working on paperwork,” explained BCFS regional director Andrew Carter in one of the emails. “The children were brought back in later in the evening, but returned to the vans because it was too cold in the facility and they were still not ready to be processed in.

He continued:

“There has to be a better process. I hope as we move forward there can be adjustments so that we don’t put tender age kids in this position.”

You can read the emails in full here.

While one child spent 39 hours in the vans, most spent at least 23 hours. And while they were given blankets and food, they weren’t allowed to exit the vehicles for any extended period of time, let alone see their parents at long last. When it was clear the kids would have to stay in the vehicles overnight, BCFS brought in more vans out of desperation so that there was room for the kids to lie down and sleep.

Carter talked to NBC News about what happened last summer, and why it happened, in greater detail.

“DHS [the parent agency of ICE] was clearly not ready to deal with the separations and did not take steps necessary to ensure a speedy reunification with their parents,” he said. “Had DHS acted differently, the process would have been much smoother and the impact on the kids would have been much less.”

One of the reasons the process too so long? The Trump Administration didn’t set up any kind of consistent system for keeping track of the children and the parents they were separated from.

This is far from the first horror story we’ve heard related to how migrant kids are treated by ICE and other government agencies once they are detained at the border — both before and after the family separations were stopped by the courts. We’ve heard stories of terrible conditions, extensive sexual abuse, and even the deaths of multiple children.

Former DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson appeared on Morning Joe on Tuesday to say that he was “appalled” to learn about the children in the vans — and to remind everyone that the world is watching as these horrendous reports are released one after the other.

“Let’s try to demonstrate some sensitivity and some flexibility in how we implement this process and these rules,” he said, “because the world is watching and making judgments about DHS, about ICE, about CBP and about our country.”