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Immigrant families search for needles in haystack

Attorney: Reunification process 'recipe for disaster'

SAN ANTONIO – The search by immigrant families for their children housed in U.S. shelters has been compared to looking for tiny needles in a massive haystack.

"I don't know what's happening. Why things are not computerized? Why they're not tracking children better?" asked Linda Brandmiller, a San Antonio immigration attorney formerly with Catholic Charities.  

Brandmiller said she's had calls from all over the country from parents asking her to help find their children among the tens of thousands who've been shuttled to facilities throughout the U.S.

"Unnecessary, and that's the thing that bothers me most," Brandmiller said.

Mercedes Rodriguez, of Houston, told KSAT 12 News her daughter Neyri travelled from Honduras against her wishes.

She said now she can't find her, more than two weeks after she was detained by U.S. Border Patrol in McAllen, along with her aunt and cousin.

Rodriguez said she was told Neyri was put on a separate bus bound for somewhere in Texas.

Brandmiller said, "It breaks my heart for a lot of reasons."

She said the reunification process is inadequate and "a recipe for disaster."

Brandmiller said the children are at the mercy of shelters workers unfamiliar with the system.

She said often paperwork ends up in a pile, delaying the matching up of children with their parents contact information.

"There should absolutely be a better way to be tracking this," Brandmiller said.

She said the government's bilingual hotline for parents of unaccompanied children has  been of little help.

Brandmiller laughed as she said, "I've called multiple times. I don't know of any parent that's connected with their child that way."

The attorney said she relies on her contacts at the shelters by giving them the child's name, birthdate and country of origin, asking them to be on the lookout for her child.

Brandmiller said she will do whatever she can to help Rodriguez find Neyri in one of the shelters.

She said once the dust settles and caseworkers can sit down and speak with each child, they'll put the pieces of the puzzles together.

But, she said, "That's the frustrating part. The system is not working fast enough."

A spokesman for the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement said he would need additional details in order to answer specific questions.

So far, there's been no response to KSAT's email asking what kind of information he would need.