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GUATEMALA CITY – U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is creating an office within the department to help the governments of Central America and Mexico get information about reunifying families following their separation by the Trump administration.
Nielsen met Tuesday in Guatemala with the foreign ministers of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador and discussed the separated families and reunification effort.
Meanwhile, U.S. immigration officials worked to reunify dozens of children with parents amid a court mandate. More than 2,300 children were separated from their parents amid a zero-tolerance policy at the U.S. border that prosecuted anyone caught crossing illegally.
Nielsen said she hoped the office would help streamline the foreign requests and the process.
"I think we all echoed the same thought, every minister, that nobody is in favor of any system that ends up with family separations," she told The Associated Press. "I think there were concerns about that."
The group gathered for several hours and agreed to several actions aimed at discouraging migrants from coming north illegally. She said the governments were working together on a regional campaign to discourage migrants and fight smugglers, known as coyotes or polleros, and another messaging campaign targeted at children. More than 10,000 children are in shelters in the U.S. after crossing the border alone.
"I think there was a lot of concern expressed about our common enemy. We came here today with common cause and a common love of our people and how can we best protect our communities ... but also how can we best protect a vulnerable population," she said.
Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray said the meeting was important because "separating children from their parents is a cruel and inhuman action." He said they were seeking concrete actions to "prevent this from happening again" and ways to achieve "an early reunification."
A U.S. judge had ruled that children under 5 must be reunited by Tuesday — though government attorneys said it needed more time to track down parents who have already been deported or released into the U.S.
The Trump administration faces a second, bigger deadline — July 26 — to reunite 2,000 or so older children.
Asked about the missed deadline, President Donald Trump said: "Well, I have a solution. Tell people not to come to our country illegally. That's the solution."
Associated Press writer Sonia Perez contributed to this report.