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Botched Family Reunifications Left Migrant Children Waiting in Vans Overnight

NBC News has obtained emails sent between employees of BCFS Heath and Human Services, the government contractor and nonprofit organization responsible for transporting the children, and senior leaders at HHS

Last July, 37 migrant children boarded vans for what was supposed to be a 30-minute ride. At the end of the road from Harlingen to Los Fresnos lay the promise of hugs, kisses and long overdue reunification with their parents, from whom they were taken when the Trump administration began systematically separating migrant families who crossed the border illegally.

But when the children, all between 5 and 12 years old, arrived at Immigration and Customs Enforcement's adults-only Port Isabel Detention Center, rather than seeing their parents, they saw a parking lot full of vans just like theirs, NBC News reports. It was 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, July 15, 2018. Despite two notifications from HHS that the children would be arriving, ICE officers kept to their regular schedule, clocking out for the day while the parking lot filled with children eager to see their parents again. 

At 1:30 a.m. Sunday, 11 hours after arrival, the first child was reunified. By 6:30 a.m. Monday, just minutes before the sun rose, 17 children had been reunified. By 1:30 p.m. Monday, nearly 24 hours after they first pulled into the parking lot, 32 children were reunified. Not until 5:50 a.m. on Tuesday was the final child reunified.

An ICE spokesman called the incident "unusual," telling NBC News "[f]ollowing processing delays on July 15-16, which resulted in some children staying overnight in [Port Isabel], DHS took immediate action to resolve the situation and the delays were resolved."

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