Immigration agents have sent dozens of children to Maryland since the Trump administration announced it would separate undocumented families at the southwest border, service providers here say.
Some of the children, who are mostly from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, are being placed with foster families coordinated by an organization based in Anne Arundel County. Others are being held in dormitories in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties, according to people involved in the process.
Many of the children have come with little information. One is 18 months old. Several are too young to speak to their new caregivers or help social workers track down relatives who could take them in. Lawyers are trying to figure out how to put together asylum claims for 6-year-olds who don’t know why they fled their countries.
Nithya Nathan-Pineau, an attorney at the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, is working with children at the two dormitories. Her team is trained to deal with children who have suffered trauma. But she said those who have been taken from their parents are different.
“Being separated from their biological parents and not being able to reconnect with them is creating a sense of hopelessness,” she said.
Maryland is one of several states to which immigration agents are sending the estimated 2,300 children who have been separated from their families. The children often have no family connection to the state; service providers here say they seem to be receiving them because the system has capacity.
Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh sent a letter to the federal agencies in charge of the children on Wednesday demanding more information about where children are being placed, specifics on their cases and plans for reuniting them with relatives.
“The Trump Administration’s actions endanger the safety and well-being of innocent children,” Frosh said in a statement. “Our concerns about the utter lack of accountability and failure to plan for reunification of these families must be addressed with urgency.”
Hundreds of demonstrators blocked traffic at Gay and East Lombard streets during the evening rush hour Wednesday to protest the separation of children from their families. The rally outside the Baltimore office of U.S. Customs and Border Protection was organized by a group of city school teachers
A spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Human Services said one organization it licenses has a contract to care for children who arrive in the country unaccompanied by adults. The spokeswoman said she could not identify the organization.
While children are being moved away from border states, so are their parents — with at least three believed to be in Maryland. The government has started filing criminal charges against people who cross into the country illegally. Those cases are typically heard in courts in the Southwest, but as they are resolved, the adults are handed back to immigration authorities, who send them around the country to local jails that have agreed to hold them.
Anne Arundel, Frederick, Howard and Worcester counties have agreed to hold hundreds of immigration detainees. Officials in those counties did not say whether any of their current detainees had been separated from children, but Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger said he met with two such men on Monday in Anne Arundel County and his office thinks a third man is also being held there.
Ruppersberger, a Baltimore County Democrat, said the men tearfully shared stories of having their children taken away. Now they have little information about their own situations or that of their families.
“These people are in limbo,” Ruppersberger said.
President Donald Trump signed an order on Wednesday that he said would end the separation of families. Immigrant advocates said they were still trying to determine what effect it might have.
Nathan-Pineau said she hasn’t seen a plan to reunite the 2,300 children already separated, and organizations working with them expect to continue their work.
“They’re still going to remain apart for the foreseeable future,” she said.
Tawnya Brown, the regional director for Bethany Christian Services, said her organization was caring for about 15 children who had arrived in Maryland since May 7. The youngest was 18 months old.
In the past, teenagers who made the journey to the United States would arrive with scraps of paper pinned to their clothes, or relatives’ phone numbers written on their hands. The more recent arrivals sometimes don’t even have that much, she said, because their parents expected to stay with them. She said her organization receives minimal information from immigration authorities.
Brown’s organization first places the children with foster parents and then begins trying to track down relatives who can look after them while their cases are processed. Workers try to keep the children in touch with their parents at least once a week, but she said it hasn’t been easy.
“That has been probably the biggest challenge due to the fact that we don’t know where their parents are,” Brown said. “It has caused a bit of a barrier with us.”
After the calls, she said, the children are often so upset that they need counseling.
Bethany Christian Services runs a school for 16 children in Anne Arundel County and arranges for their medical and mental health care while vetting relatives to take them in. Brown said the organization aims to complete that process in two or three months.
Brown said the children she has seen are more traumatized than those she’s helped before. Their suffering isn’t immediately apparent, she said, but emerges as they get more comfortable with the staff.
“The most important thing is that the child starts to feel safe,” Brown said “That’s what we have to work on a lot more now than we have in the past.”
While children don’t face criminal charges like their parents, they are still subject to deportation. Nathan-Pineau’s group is working to explain their legal rights and get them lawyers.
That would normally involve interviewing relatives and gathering information that might form the basis of an asylum claim. But the lawyers are discovering the children who have been separated from their parents don’t know why they fled their homes.
“With any child under 6 or 7, really, the amount of information we can learn from them is so limited,” Nathan-Pineau said.