AUSTIN (KXAN) — After widespread displays of public disapproval, President Donald Trump reversed his administration’s policy of separating children from parents accused of illegally crossing the souther US border. Despite the change, the confusion on the border is far from over.
While the executive order ended family separation, it does not provide guidance surrounding the process of reuniting the families affected by the earlier policy. With more than 2,000 children now spread across 17 states, many worry some reunions will never happen.
The former head of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, John Sandweg speculates there could be “hundreds of cases where children are permanently separated from their parents, becoming wards of the United States.”
A significant number of Texans supported President Trump’s policy to separate children from their parents at the border. A poll released this week by the Texas Tribune and University of Texas found that Texas voters are torn on the issue. Democrats overwhelmingly oppose the policy. But a plurality Republicans lean to the side of support with 46 percent saying they support separating families at the border, and only 35 percent opposing the practice. As a whole, though, the majority of the state is against this practice, with 57 percent opposing family separation.
The differing viewpoints among Texas voters make it difficult to determine whether the policy will have a political impact. “There will be some cringing behind closed doors from Republicans, a lot of whispers,” predicted Johnathan Silver, a reporter for the Austin American-Statesman. But, long-term repercussions are unclear. Texas Tribune reporter Alana Rocha said the impact of the crisis could be lost to “political amnesia” at the polls in November.
“Voters are so busy, they often forget in the moment what is infuriating them,” Rocha said. “When they go to the polls, if they’re die-hard Republicans, they’ll vote Republican.”
The executive order does not change the President’s zero-tolerance prosecution of people illegally crossing into the United States. Now, shelters are overflowing, tent cities are popping up, and many Texans are finding more questions than answers.
Many city and state officials feel they are being left in the dark when it comes to the fate of these immigrants. The United States Conference of Mayors placed an official request to see the tent city in Tornillo, near El Paso. They were told it could be weeks before they could go inside. Representative Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint) essentially snuck into the tent city in her own district. “There’s an intentionality around keeping this silent and keeping it invisible,” Gonzalez said.
Expecting the worst, Rep. Gonzalez said she was pleasantly surprised to find the shelter equipped with medical care, therapists and clean water. Despite the care, Gonzalez still isn’t satisfied. “Kids should never be incarcerated. This is really dehumanizing and it is unpractical and it is not sustainable,” Gonzalez said. “Is that the future of the United States?”
The organizations running these shelters have also found themselves under public scrutiny. Southwest Key, a nonprofit based in Austin, houses 5,000 children and is currently facing criticism for its involvement. The group’s CEO, Dr. Juan Sanchez, defended the company’s role, saying “we do not know what will happen to these kids if we get out of the way — and we also know there are very few if any that understand the culture — understand the language and are able to provide the service to these kids like that.”
The mental health of the children impacted by family separations is also a concern. Sera Bonds, the CEO of Circle of Health International says “the trauma of the children is palatable, visible and very, very moving.” Many in the medical community worry this trauma will stick with them into adulthood and evolve into serious problems such as depression and personality disorders.
Now, the pressure is on Congress to find common ground and pass immigration reform legislation. The first immigration bill to reach the U.S. House of Representatives has already been rejected. Another is set for a vote next week.