U.S. authorities struggling to reunite immigrant families

Two days after U.S. President Donald Trump ordered an end to the separation of families at the border, federal authorities are still working on a plan to reunite an estimated 1,800 children with their parents.

Some 1,800 children still scattered across country

An immigrant child from Guatemala sits on a toy chair as she waits with her family at a facility in McAllen, Texas, on Thursday. (David J. Phillip/Associated Press)

Two days after U.S. President Donald Trump ordered an end to the separation of families at the border, federal authorities Friday were still working on a plan to reunite an estimated 1,800 children with their parents and keep immigrant households together.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) posted a notice saying it is looking into creating 15,000 beds for use in detaining immigrant families. A day earlier, the Pentagon agreed to provide space for as many as 20,000 migrants on U.S. military bases.

Beyond that, however, there was nothing but frustration and worry for many of the parents separated from their children and placed in detention centres for illegally entering the country over the past several weeks.

Some parents struggled to get in touch with youngsters being held in many cases hundreds of kilometres away, in places like New York and the Chicago area. Some said they didn't even know where their children were.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told reporters on Friday there are approximately 100 migrant children separated from their families in the city, but that city officials have little information about them.

The two-term Democrat said many of the children are very young, including some too young to identify their parents.

Trump himself took a hard line on the crisis, accusing the Democrats of telling "phoney stories of sadness and grief."

"We cannot allow our country to be overrun by illegal immigrants," the president tweeted.

Days, or months? 

More than 2,300 children were taken from their families at the border in recent weeks. A senior Trump administration official said that about 500 of them have been reunited since May.

Trump's decision to stop separating families, announced Wednesday after a fierce international outcry, has led to confusion and uncertainty along the border.

Federal agencies are working to set up a centralized reunification process for all remaining children at a detention centre in Texas, said the senior administration official, who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Protesters outside the White House chant against the Trump administration's immigration policy of family separation, on Wednesday. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

An ICE official said it is unclear how families will be reunified.

"It's a big question. There have not been a lot of answers," Henry Lucero, a director of field operations, confessed at a forum in Weslaco, Texas.

Zenen Jaimes Perez of the Texas Civil Rights Project said immigrant families are still awaiting details from the administration on how parents and children are to be reunited.

"It could take a couple of months, a couple of days ... but we don't have timelines," Jaimes Perez said. "What we need to hear is what the administration says this process is going to look like, because we don't know."

Tearful reunion

Earlier in the day, a seven-year-old boy and his migrant mother were reunited, after a month apart, at Baltimore-Washington International Airport in Maryland.

The mother, Beata Mariana de Jesus Mejia-Mejia, had filed for political asylum after crossing the border with her son, Darwin, following a trek from Guatemala. The Justice Department agreed to release the child after she sued in federal court.

She said she started crying when the two were reunited and that she's never going to be away from him again.

Guatemalan mom and son were apart for nearly a month after crossing at Arizona 1:24

Meanwhile, the father of the girl who is pictured crying on the cover of this week's Time magazine said the Honduran Foreign Ministry told him that his daughter is detained with her mother in McAllen, Texas, and the two have not been separated.

Denis Varela said he hasn't heard from his wife or daughter in almost three weeks. The girl's mother apparently took their daughter to the United States without telling him. Varela was told they are in McAllen, but nothing else.

The original photo of the girl — taken June 12 near McAllen by photographer John Moore of Getty Images — quickly became symbolic of the family separation crisis. The description supplied with the photo says the girl cried while the mother was "searched and detained" and that they were sent to a processing centre for "possible separation." 

The girl in this photo, which was used for this week's cover of Time magazine, quickly became symbolic of the family separation crisis at the U.S. southern border. (John Moore/Getty Images)

'Angel families'

There were signs the Trump administration was dialling back its "zero-tolerance" policy, for now, but the president showed no sign of softening in public remarks, even as Congress failed again to pass immigration reform.

Trump also chided Republican lawmakers for "wasting their time on immigration" while imploring them to wait until after the midterm elections in November when he hopes a "red wave" will take over the House and Senate.

Republican leaders in the U.S. House of Representative still plan to bring an immigration bill up for a vote next week, despite Trump's urgings.

Trump also lashed out at media coverage of the border separations, dismissing "phoney stories of sadness and grief" while asserting the real victims of the nation's immigration crisis are Americans killed by those who cross the border unlawfully.

"You hear the other side, you never hear this side," said Trump at the White House, standing with a dozen of what he called "angel families" who lost loved ones at the hands of people in the country illegally.

He focused on the fact that young migrants separated from parents are likely to be reunited, unlike the victims of murders.

U.S. President Donald Trump arrives for an event with people who have lost family members from crime committed by undocumented immigrants, on Friday. (Susan Walsh/Associated Press)

The United Nations human rights office said Trump's decision to stop separating families doesn't go far enough.

Human rights office spokesperson Ravini Shamdasani said Friday that "children should never be detained for reasons related to their or their parents' migration status."

Shamdasani urged the U.S. to overhaul its migration policy, such as by relying on "non-custodial and community-based alternatives" under the "logic of care" rather than that of law enforcement.

Also Friday, a group of nearly a dozen independent human rights experts commissioned by the UN said the new U.S. policy "may lead to indefinite detention of entire families in violation of international human rights standards."

With files from Reuters and CBC News