Bethany Christian Services has less than a week left to help the government reunify more than 2,500 children separated from their families under the Trump administration's former zero tolerance border policy.
A San Diego federal judge has ordered that the federal government reunify all families by July 26th.
Dona Abbott, who serves as branch director for Bethany's refugee and immigrant programs, told CBN News, "We have every intention next week of assuring that every child we have in care from being separated is being reunified."
Bethany has already matched the government-issued ID numbers of separated children in its care with the ID numbers of their parents. "We know where every parent is," said Abbott. So far, Bethany has reunified over half of the separated children in its care, although Abbott declined to say how many that was.
But what happens next is a big concern--for Bethany and other humanitarian groups following these children. The fear: that these children will be reunited with their parents behind bars.
Bethany issued a press statement this week to publicize that worry. "We are concerned that recently reunified families may remain in the custody of the Department of Homeland Security, as detailed in the federal government's reunification plan for separated children five and older."
Many of the separated children have parents who are fleeing violence in their homeland and seeking asylum. The process of seeking asylum in the US takes three years on average, according to Bethany.
Abbott worries that these children, even though they're reunified with their family, will suffer waiting with them for years in government detention centers. "It's not the healthiest situation for a family," she said. "Family and children belong in a community."
Abbott said some of the children Bethany is caring for have been reunified with their families in detention centers but she couldn't estimate how many.
CBN News has reached out to several federal agencies to determine how often this might be happening.
World Relief president Scott Arbeiter told CBN News he's also concerned about the possibility, although he noted he can't substantiate that it's happening. "Children don't belong in a detention center," he said. "It really does have demonstrated impact on their long-term development."
Both Bethany and World Relief prefer a system that allows aslyum-seeking families to wait outside of government custody. Bethany previously participated in a trial family case management model that utilized case workers to link these families with services and to ensure that they show up for the interviews and court hearings needed to receive refugee status.
World Relief has sent a team of immigration attorneys to the US-Mexico border to assist families seeking asylum. It's encouraging local churches to support asylum-seeking families in their communities. It's also urging all believers to pray for children and families traumatized by separation during the short-lived zero tolerance policy that the Trump administration discontinued last month.
A bi-partisan group of 27 senators sent a letter to the president on Thursday, urging him prioritize family reunification and to never again consider a policy that separates children from their parents at the border.
Arbeiter praised the letter noting "there is nothing that would protect these families from a decision like that being implemented again."
The senators also urged the Trump administration to utilize the faith-based community to support family reunification.