When President Biden in 2021 announced an effort to reunify families under a punitive border-control policy from the Trump administration, Homeland Security officials knew their greatest challenge would be posed by the cases when children taken from their parents were placed with foster families instead of with their own relatives. But even they were unprepared for how, in such cases, the jurisdiction of state and local courts would leave the federal government powerless to bring children and parents together again, creating what one official called the government's "nightmare scenario" of being unable to reunify all families, the Washington Post reports. Between 2017 and 2018, the United States took about 5,000 migrant children from their parents. In most cases, the children were sent to live with relatives in the United States and the parents were deported. But in foster cases, custody was transferred to state welfare agencies and private foster services. Some parents were warned by immigration officials that their children could be adopted by American families. It’s unclear how many families have been ensnared by the complication, but cases continue to emerge. In Florida, a Guatemalan woman fought to get her preteen daughter from a state foster program in which the girl had been living for nearly five years. In North Carolina, a Honduran mother struggled to regain custody of her 14-year-old son. “The separation these families experience is even further prolonged, the harm further perpetuated,” said Kelly Albinak Kribs, an attorney with the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights.
The Post follows one case in which border agents took the two daughters of a Guatemalan woman, Magdalena Hernández Pérez, when she legally sought asylum in December 2017 at an immigration detention facility in Arizona. In May 2022, more than four years after she was deported, the U.S. granted Hernández a humanitarian visa to return to the U.S. to seek to regain custody of her youngest, Mildred Analy Hernández Pérez, who was 9 when she was placed in foster care. During a months-long court case under California's unusually strict child protection laws, a California judge was conflicted over how to apply the state legal standard of what is best for the child. Hernández finally won the termination of her daughter's guardianship. As with other long-term separations, the relationship has proved difficult to rebuild. The saga has left Hernández feeling bitter. “They shouldn’t be thinking about whether I can raise my children or not,” she said.