Immigrant parents hold their children at Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in McAllen, Texas, on Thursday. President Trump ended family separations at the Mexican border, but the U.S. government has done little to help with the reunifications, attorneys say. Washington Post/Jahi Chikwendiu

BROWNSVILLE, Texas — Each of the mothers had a different memory of the moment she was separated from her child.

For some, it was outside a Border Patrol station just north of the Rio Grande, shortly after being apprehended. For others, it was after an interrogation by federal authorities in a bitterly cold air-conditioned office.

Jodi Goodwin, an attorney in Harlingen, Texas, has heard more than two dozen variations of those stories from Central American mothers who have been detained for days or weeks without their children. So far, she has not been able to locate a single one of their offspring.

“It’s just a total labyrinth,” she said.

Even though the Trump administration has halted its policy of separating illegal border crossers from their children, many of the over 2,300 youths removed from migrant parents since May 5 remain in shelters and foster homes across the country. The U.S. government has done little to help with the reunifications, attorneys say, prompting them to launch a frantic, improvised effort to find the children – some of them toddlers.

One legal aid organization, the Texas Civil Rights Project, is representing more than 300 parents and has only been able to track down two children.

“Either the government wasn’t thinking at all about how they were going to put these families back together, or they decided they just didn’t care,” said Natalia Cornelio, with the organization.

Government officials say they have provided detained parents with a flier with a toll-free number for the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the U.S. agency that is usually in charge of providing shelter for unaccompanied immigrant children. But not a single one of Goodwin’s clients had received one, she said. Lawyers maintain that when they have called the number, often no one answered. In some cases, when someone did pick up, that person refused to offer details of where children had been taken, the lawyers said.

“You wait and wait for no information,” said Jerry Wesevich, an attorney at Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid who is suing the government over the family separations.

Further complicating matters are bureaucratic errors that could leave government officials unaware that a child’s parent is detained in the United States. Attorneys also worry that some toddlers, or children who speak indigenous languages, might not have been able to give officials their parents’ complete names.

Because of such complications, attorneys and former U.S. officials have begun speaking about the possibility of “permanent separations.”

In the case of one Guatemalan family, the Border Patrol failed to note in its apprehension report that a mother and daughter crossed the border together, according to Wesevich. Without that information, government officials might not be aware that the child’s parent is detained in the United States.

In other cases, Cornelio said, children arrive at shelters without the facility knowing that they have been separated from their parents, meaning they could be considered unaccompanied minors rather than children in need of reunification.

The U.S. government spent months developing the family-separation system, but authorities were struggling Thursday to figure out how to reunite detained parents with children. There was no system for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, which handled the parents’ cases, to work on the issue with the refugee resettlement office, which is responsible for the children.

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