Los Fresnos, Texas (CNN) The government agency tasked with reuniting child migrants with the parents they were separated from, or placing them with an appropriate sponsor, is coming up on an important deadline.
By July 6, officials must make sure every separated parent has a way to contact their child, US District Judge Dana Sabraw said in a June ruling.
It's the first in a series of deadlines Sabraw set for reuniting migrant families separated at the US-Mexico border as a result of the Trump administration's zero tolerance approach to immigration enforcement. Per Sabraw's order, by July 10, officials must reunify all parents with their children under the age of 5. The deadline for reunifying parents with children 5 and older is July 26.
In a phone call with reporters on Thursday, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar cited two priorities for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, the agency tasked with family reunification:
- Generate accurate information to ensure children know the location of their parents
- Ensure parents and children are in communication twice a week
But for many of those parents, one phone call is not enough, and a second one seems like a distant hope. Making contact does not necessarily bring clarity to a family's situation, lawyers say. Sometimes, it can add to the confusion and deepen a parent's despair.
Six lawyers working with dozens of detained parents have told CNN their clients had at least one phone call with their children. Most times, those phone calls last less than five minutes, said human rights lawyer Sara E. Dill, who is working with detained parents at Port Isabel Service Detention Center in Los Fresnos, Texas.
"And the detention centers aren't really helping to facilitate those calls," she said.
One detained mother says she had to wait more than two agonizing weeks before she received news of her 7-year-old son or spoke to him.
And she's still waiting for her second phone call, she said.
"I'm desperate. I want to know how my child is, I want to talk to him," Ada, a woman from Honduras, told CNN by phone from Port Isabel.
Her desperation is evident in her voice. She sobs and chokes on her words. They fled threats of deadly violence at home to seek asylum in the United States, her lawyer, Eileen Blessinger, said. Then one day she went to court, and when she returned he was gone, despite promises from guards that he was not going anywhere, Blessinger said.
Ada has tried to reach him before through a letter. She told him that she loves him, God will protect him, and they will be together soon.
She was told that she would receive two phone calls per week from him, she said. Per guidelines from HHS' Office of Refugee Resettlement, which oversees placement and care of unaccompanied minors in their custody, unaccompanied alien children must be given the opportunity to make a minimum of two telephone calls per week lasting 10 minutes each to family members or sponsors in a private setting.
Making and receiving phone calls isn't necessarily the hard part, as CNN's efforts to reach her show. The hard part is locating the children and coordinating those phone calls, lawyers told CNN.
She said she knows he's in a home and not a detention center, but nothing more about his whereabouts. She has called the numbers she's been told to call, but no one calls back, she said. All she can do is wait.
"They told us that they will give us two calls per week. But look, since last Friday I am waiting," she said, crying. "I need to talk to him to see what happened to him."