In the chaos to reunite migrant children with their families, 37 kids were left in vans for up to 39 hours, with Texas temperatures in the 90s

Kyodo News via Getty ImagesA migrant child from Central America waves out of a bus window as the vehicle heads to a newly established shelter in Tijuana, Mexico, on Dec. 1, 2018.
  • Thirty-seven migrant children between the ages of five and 12 stayed in vans for hours – many overnight – last summer, while authorities struggled to reunite them with their parents,NBC News reported Monday.
  • The incident occurred at the height of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, which separated thousands of children from their parents.
  • According to NBC News, it took 39 hours before the last child was removed from a van and reunited with a parent.
  • An ICE spokesman told the network that since that incident, “no child has spent more than a few hours waiting to be reunited with their parents.”
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.

Thirty-seven migrant children between the ages of five and 12 spent between 11 and 39 hours in vans last summer, in a chaotic effort to reunite them with the parents they had been separated from at the border, NBC News reported Monday, citing internal emails from the Department of Health and Human Services.

The incident occurred in the immediate aftermath of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, which mandated that migrant parents who crossed the US-Mexico border illegally be prosecuted, thereby separating them from their children.

A federal judge ordered the Trump administration to reunite the thousands of migrant children who had been sent to shelters and foster families across the country, and the reunification process was at times haphazard and disorganized.

On July 15, 37 migrant children were sent on vans to Los Fresnos, Texas, to be reunited with their parents at an adults-only detention center run by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. According to emails published by NBC News, it wasn’t until 39 hours later that the last child was removed from the van and reunited with a parent.

Read more: Trump is trying a risky new strategy to force Mexico to stop migrants from reaching the US. Experts say it could backfire spectacularly.

Harried emails sent back and forth between Health and Human Services officials and employees of the BCFS Health and Human Services, the nonprofit responsible for transporting the children to Los Fresnos, showed that the long wait time was caused by the detention facility “still working on paperwork.”

“The children were brought back in later in the evening, but returned to the vans because it was too cold in the facility and they were still not ready to be processed in,” BCFS regional director Andrew Carter said in one email to the company’s CEO, after the children had already been waiting in the parking lot for eight hours. “There has to be a better process. I hope as we move forward there can be adjustments so that we don’t put tender age kids in this position.”

“Additional vans were called in to allow children room to sleep as were blankets and food collected from the HHS facility in Harlingen where the children had previously stayed,” NBC News reported, and the first child was reunited with their parents 11 hours after arriving at 1:30 am local time.

The Department of Homeland Security did not offer comment to INSIDER on the report, and the Department of Health and Human Services declined to comment.

An ICE spokesman told NBC News the incident was “unusual,” and added that “DHS took immediate action to resolve the situation and the delays were resolved. These children have all been reunited with their parents and since then, no child has spent more than a few hours waiting to be reunited with their parents.”

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