Impact of family separation examined during Senate hearing

WASHINGTON — Members of a Maryland group assisting children at the southern U.S. border said at a hearing Wednesday these young immigrants are suffering because of the government policy separating families.

Senate Democrats hosted the hearing, which featured nonprofit leaders who work with families at the border with Mexico. Democrats held the unofficial hearing claiming that Republicans, who control all formal committee hearings, refused to set one on the matter.

“We are the only organization in the country that walks alongside unaccompanied refugee and migrant children and their families throughout their entire journey in the United States,” said Dawnya Underwood, director of children and family services for Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.

The group, headquartered in Baltimore, works with the federal government to provide short-term foster care for separated children while trying to hook them up with relatives who already live in the U.S.

The service has helped nearly 150 of the more than 2,000 children recently separated from their families at the border.

“Almost 50 were under the age of 5,” Underwood said.

Underwood told the story of one child — a 3-year-old girl from Honduras named Catalina.

Catalina was separated from her mother, father and brother at the border in Texas back in May.

“She was noticeably impacted by her separation,” Underwood said. “While trying to tell her story, Catalina was despondent.”

Weeks later, Underwood said the girl was finally able to talk with her mother via video chat.

“It was a heartbreaking call,” Underwood said. “Catalina sobbed throughout and cried that she wanted to live with her mom. She cannot comprehend why she has been taken from her family.”

For days and weeks now, some of the hundreds of parents separated from their children at the border by the Trump administration have been battling one of the world’s most complex immigration systems to find their youngsters and get them back.

A federal judge ruled this week that the government needs to reunite children with their families within 30 days, or 14 days in the case of those younger than 5.

Before that ruling, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to end family separations.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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