Children housed in Emsworth under the family separation policy are back with their families

The federal immigration crackdown sent an unknown number of children to Holy Family Institute.

Holy Family Institute on Ohio River Boulevard in Emsworth.

Holy Family Institute on Ohio River Boulevard in Emsworth.

Colin Deppen / The Incline
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The migrant children housed at the Holy Family Institute in Emsworth this summer amid a federal crackdown on illegal border crossings have all been reunited with their families, a spokesperson for the Institute said.

“I am pleased to share that all of the children who were separated from their families earlier this year at our border with Mexico have been reunited. It was an emotional summer and early fall for all who cared for these children at Holy Family, and we were honored to serve them,” Holy Family Institute President and CEO Sister Linda Yankoski wrote in an open letter published Monday.

The Institute hosted an unpublicized number of migrant children who were placed there by federal authorities after being swept up in the Trump administration’s controversial effort to enforce a policy of separating parents and children caught crossing the southern border illegally.

Reached by phone Thursday, Yankoski said she couldn’t go into greater detail. She cited restrictions on speaking with reporters without first receiving approval from the Office of Refugee Resettlement. The ORR monitors the Institute’s contract with the federal government for services the Institute provides to children migrants taken into custody by federal immigration authorities. The office did not respond to a request for comment this week.

A separate response from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families declined comment citing policies in place to “protect the privacy and security of the unaccompanied alien children…”

In her letter, Yankoski said the Institute, a Catholic nonprofit, is committed to providing shelter and supportive services to children like these “who arrive year-round and typically stay at Holy Family 30-45 days.” It began providing care in such cases in 2014 and did so again in 2016.

Yankoski added, “Our Journey of Hope initiative remains active as the crises of unaccompanied children arriving at our borders continues.”

In the phone interview with The Incline, Yankoski would not say if the Institute is currently housing other children.

The Institute’s reunification announcement came as immigration is again dominating national headlines with a caravan of some 5,000 migrants from countries like Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, three of the most dangerous on earth, continuing to make its way north.

Earlier this year, a federal judge in California ordered U.S. immigration authorities to reunify roughly 2,600 families that were separated under President Donald Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy, USA Today reported at the time. As of two weeks ago, the government was still detaining 245 children. Trump signed an executive order effectively ending the policy in June amid a public uproar.

After reunification, families are often allowed to stay in the U.S. under GPS monitoring while they wait to appear at immigration or asylum hearings, NPR reported. The vast majority of these immigrants will not be allowed to stay. This includes reunified families and children like those formerly housed at Holy Family Institute.

The administration is now considering resuming family separations, per NPR — or allowing “voluntary” family separations, according to The New York Times — as a way of deterring asylum-seeking migrants and those in the caravan from crossing into the country illegally.

At Holy Family Institute, Yankoski said they remain committed to housing the children caught in the middle of all this.

“They are some of the most vulnerable in the world — fleeing violent regions and enduring long and perilous journeys in search of a better life and future,” Yankoski wrote in the open letter.

The children housed there this summer ranged in age from 4 to 17 and hailed from countries in central America including Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, the Post-Gazette reported. Children who crossed the border by themselves were also staying at Holy Family, but the Institute would not specify how many children of each group were there.

The Institute provided periodic updates on its website, writing in July, “all of the children in our care who were separated from their families are in telephone contact with them, and some have been reunited. We are working diligently with the Office of Refugee Resettlement to reunite the remaining families. We will post an update here when all families are together again.”

That update came this week.

In her written comments, Yankoski is clear in communicating the Institute’s commitment to providing “shelter and education for immigrant children who arrive at our border with Mexico without parents or legal guardians,” adding, “The plight of these children is heartbreaking, but while they are at Holy Family we do our best to make them feel safe, loved and hopeful.”