(This story has been updated with comments from the children's attorney.)
Immigrant children taken to Kansas after being separated from their families are on their way to being reunited with loved ones.
A federal judge in San Diego on Tuesday night ordered that kids separated from their families under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy must be reunited with those adults within 30 days. That’s already happened for more than half of the separated kids staying at a shelter in Topeka.
Kansas House Minority Leader Jim Ward met with the executive director of The Villages, the Topeka shelter, Wednesday morning. She told him all but three of the nine or 10 kids it had taken in who were separated from family at the border had been reunited with family. They’ve been placed with either the family members they were separated from or other relatives in the U.S. who could take them in.
The remaining three children all have contact information for family members, so Ward said he’s confident they’ll also be in a home soon.
“For the forced removal children,” Ward said, “this seems to be winding down.”
The California judge also said in his ruling that parents are entitled to speak with their children within 10 days. Ward said all the kids staying at The Villages have already been able to call their parents.
The Villages began taking in children who had crossed into the United States alone or without a relative in February 2017. Ward said the shelter has taken in about 190 children in 16 months.
That shelter has also been working to place those unaccompanied kids with relatives or sponsors in this country. Executive Director Sylvia Crawford said that process has taken anywhere from three weeks to five months.
The organization first began seeing kids in recent weeks who came into the country with relatives, but were separated from them and sent to shelters such as The Villages while those family members were prosecuted.
Barry Grissom, a former U.S. attorney for Kansas, has been assembling a team of lawyers, paralegals and legal secretaries to help reunite the separated kids in Topeka with family members.
He spoke Tuesday with Clare Murphy Shaw, the attorney representing the separated children at The Villages.
She has been representing children at The Villages since July 2017, both unaccompanied minors and the more recent arrivals who were separated from their families. Shaw said in an email that she sees each child within 10 days of their arrival at the Kansas shelter to provide legal consultation and a “Know Your Rights” presentation.
Grissom said he offered his volunteer team of lawyers and legal staff to help Shaw represent the kids at The Villages.
Grissom said he was impressed with the care and legal help those children were getting.
“If you would have to be detained some place, this is the best place for a child to be detained, given the infrastructure that exists and the care and compassion of the people who are administering that,” Grissom said.
Ward and other Democratic lawmakers plan to visit The Villages next week to see how children are faring in its care.
Madeline Fox is a reporter for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach her on Twitter @maddycfox.
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