The July 10 deadline for the Trump administration to reunite detained families with their children under 5 years old has passed. Predictably, and infuriatingly, they failed to meet that deadline. It's predictable because the administration repeatedly tried to get the deadline extended, mostly on grounds that they knew they couldn't meet it. And it's infuriating because while Trump eagerly rushed into his "zero tolerance" and family-separation policies, it's been clear since the beginning that his administration had no plans or methods for reuniting families once they were forced apart.
It's not hard to conclude that family reunification isn't a priority. The Department of Homeland Security has claimed it has a database of separated children and parents but has never proved it exists. Trump himself has said that the procedure for reuniting families is "don't come to our country illegally" in the first place. And now, as the Daily Beast reports, government officials have told at least four immigrant women that to get their children back, they'll have to pay for their own DNA tests to prove that they're related:
The tests are the latest ad hoc effort by the Trump administration to reunite families it had separated—in some cases because authorities took documents from adults proving they are related to their children. The tests are being administered by a private contractor on behalf of the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement, which oversees the care and housing of children. HHS has refused to name the contractor, which may be a violation of federal law.
HHS replied by claiming that they provide DNA tests free of charge, but reports from both the director for the immigrant shelter where the women are staying and an immigration lawyer who works with the shelter contradict that. The women are reportedly being told to pay between $700 and $800.
This corresponds with other stories of the government demanding steep fees to release immigrant children from custody. Family members already in the U.S. who attempt to sponsor detained children have been told they must pay hefty airplane tickets. A construction worker in Los Angeles, for example, tried to take in a 14-year-old relative taken from her mother when crossing the border. The girl would only be released into the custody of a family member—and only if that family member paid $1,800 to fly her and an escort from Houston. Immigrant and youth-rights advocates have accused the government of trying to raise barriers that make it impossible for typically poor people to free their family members.
As more stories like these come out, calls to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement are growing louder and more mainstream. Some Democrats in Congress are readying legislation to eliminate the agency. While abolishing ICE, a division of the Department of Homeland Security that's barely 15 years old, would cut the legs out of the unaccountable secret police force that Trump has empowered, it would only address one aspect of the administration's ongoing abuse of immigrants. The bills for DNA tests, for example, aren't even being handled by DHS—that's under Health and Human Services.
But the fact that calls to abolish ICE have grown louder is a sign that politicians are waking up to people's demands for a just and humane immigration system. It's the first step in turning Congress away from answering only to corporate interests and white supremacists.