In a tragic example of the chaos that has surrounded the Trump Administration’s policy of separating migrant children from their families, dozens of children spent 39 hours waiting in a series of white vans to be reunited with their parents.

Last July, 37 migrant children boarded a van for what was supposed to be a 30-minute ride to their parents, only to be greeted not by their families but by a parking lot full of vans just like theirs. So began what ended up as a multi-night wait for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to bring these children into contact with their parents.

According to a report by ABC news, ICE was woefully unprepared for the arrival of these children. Despite multiple notifications of the incoming vans, ICE and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), ICE’s parent organization, continued to go about their business as normal, not making any preparations for the children. ICE officers clocked out for the day just as the children began arriving, ensuring that there was an inadequate sized staff to deal with the large number of children. This understaffing, combined with the lack of ICE paperwork linking children to their parents, meant that it was 11 hours until the first child was reunited with their parents. After 24 hours 32 children had been reunited, but it wasn’t until 5:50 a.m. the following day that the final child was handed over to their parents.

An ICE spokesperson called the event “unusual,” stating that “[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. 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.” The situation of the 37 children was not reported in a subsequent status hearing over the status of family reunifications.

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