Alejandro, 13, said he fell into a deep depression after he was removed from his mother and placed in detention for months. The experience caused "irreparable damage," his mother Dalia said.
Deborah Brunswick/CNN
Alejandro, 13, said he fell into a deep depression after he was removed from his mother and placed in detention for months. The experience caused "irreparable damage," his mother Dalia said.
Now playing
03:09
Boy traumatized after separation: I can't forget
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 13: Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) speaks during a news conference on immigration to condemn the Trump Administration's "zero tolerance" immigration policy, outside the US Capitol on June 13, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Toya Sarno Jordan/Getty Images)
Toya Sarno Jordan/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 13: Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) speaks during a news conference on immigration to condemn the Trump Administration's "zero tolerance" immigration policy, outside the US Capitol on June 13, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Toya Sarno Jordan/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:39
Governor settles with former campaign staffer who accused her of sexual mistreatment
Former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin chooses not to testify at his trial on April 15. Sitting to his left is defense attorney Eric Nelson.
Pool
Former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin chooses not to testify at his trial on April 15. Sitting to his left is defense attorney Eric Nelson.
Now playing
02:10
Derek Chauvin invokes 5th Amendment right at trial
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., questions witnesses during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, April 14, 2021, in Washington.
Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., questions witnesses during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, April 14, 2021, in Washington.
Now playing
02:59
Women detail late-night parties with Gaetz
Pool
Now playing
06:07
Fauci fires back at Rep. Jim Jordan during heated exchange
President Joe Biden arrives to speak from the Treaty Room in the White House on Wednesday, April 14, 2021, about the withdrawal of the remainder of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
Andrew Harnik/Pool/AP
President Joe Biden arrives to speak from the Treaty Room in the White House on Wednesday, April 14, 2021, about the withdrawal of the remainder of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
Now playing
02:44
See Biden make historic announcement on US troops in Afghanistan
Avril Haines
POOL
Avril Haines
Now playing
01:09
DNI director gives two primary theories of where Covid-19 transmitted initially
THE BACHELORETTE - Fan favorite Becca Kufrin captured America's heart when she found herself at the center of one of the most gut-wrenching Bachelor breakups of all time. Now the Minnesota girl next door returns for a second shot at love and gets to hand out the roses, searching for her happily-ever-after in the 14th edition of ABC's hit series "The Bachelorette," premiering MONDAY, MAY 28 (8:00-10:01 p.m. EDT), on The ABC Television Network. (ABC/Craig Sjodin)
COLTON
Craig Sjodin/ABC
THE BACHELORETTE - Fan favorite Becca Kufrin captured America's heart when she found herself at the center of one of the most gut-wrenching Bachelor breakups of all time. Now the Minnesota girl next door returns for a second shot at love and gets to hand out the roses, searching for her happily-ever-after in the 14th edition of ABC's hit series "The Bachelorette," premiering MONDAY, MAY 28 (8:00-10:01 p.m. EDT), on The ABC Television Network. (ABC/Craig Sjodin) COLTON
Now playing
01:24
Former 'Bachelor' star says he is gay
american airlines plane preparations summer travel muntean pkg vpx_00000000.png
american airlines plane preparations summer travel muntean pkg vpx_00000000.png
Now playing
03:10
American Airlines prepares for summer travel demand surge
Family Photo/Getty Images
Now playing
04:11
Former officer charged with 2nd-degree manslaughter in Daunte Wright killing
Pool
Now playing
03:02
Use-of-force expert says Chauvin's actions were 'justified'
CNN
Now playing
01:06
Dr. Gupta: Johnson & Johnson vaccine pause will fuel hesitancy
CNN
Now playing
02:02
Daunte Wright's mom emotionally recounts her son's death
Barbers from King's Cutz give haircuts indoors while observing COVID-19 safety restrictions on March 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.
Mario Tama/Getty Images
Barbers from King's Cutz give haircuts indoors while observing COVID-19 safety restrictions on March 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.
Now playing
01:43
US consumer prices increased in March
screengrab japan fukushima daiichi
IAEA
screengrab japan fukushima daiichi
Now playing
02:31
Japan plans to release treated Fukushima water into sea
BROOKLYN CENTER, MINNESOTA - APRIL 12: Demonstrators face off with police officers outside of the Brooklyn Center police station on April 12, 2021 in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. People have taken to the streets to protest after Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, was shot and killed by Brooklyn Center police officer Kimberly Potter during a traffic stop yesterday.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Scott Olson/Getty Images
BROOKLYN CENTER, MINNESOTA - APRIL 12: Demonstrators face off with police officers outside of the Brooklyn Center police station on April 12, 2021 in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. People have taken to the streets to protest after Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, was shot and killed by Brooklyn Center police officer Kimberly Potter during a traffic stop yesterday. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:14
Protests break out over the shooting of Daunte Wright
Nikki Haley, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations looks on during a meeting with US President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval office of the White House October 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. - Nikki Haley resigned Tuesday as the US ambassador to the United Nations, in the latest departure from President Donald Trump's national security team. Meeting Haley in the Oval Office, Trump said that Haley had done a "fantastic job" and would leave at the end of the year. (Photo by Olivier Douliery / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)
Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images
Nikki Haley, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations looks on during a meeting with US President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval office of the White House October 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. - Nikki Haley resigned Tuesday as the US ambassador to the United Nations, in the latest departure from President Donald Trump's national security team. Meeting Haley in the Oval Office, Trump said that Haley had done a "fantastic job" and would leave at the end of the year. (Photo by Olivier Douliery / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)
Now playing
01:48
Nikki Haley U-turns on 2024 presidential run. An analyst explains why
(CNN) —  

Six months after US officials separated them at the border, ICE put a 4-year-old girl on a plane to Guatemala this week so she could be reunited with her father.

But there was one major problem, according to advocates who worked on the case: The man didn’t learn his daughter was coming until 30 minutes before her flight was set to land in Guatemala City.

He lives eight hours away – too far to get there in time. After half a year apart from her father, the girl would have to spend another night in a shelter alone.

The case sparked fury and frustration this week from advocates working to help reunite children with deported parents. It’s an example, they said, of a reunification effort that remains needlessly chaotic at times, even months after a federal judge ordered the US government to reunite the immigrant families it separated.

“After what the US government has already done to these kids, it’s beyond outrageous and inhumane,” said Lisa Frydman, vice president of regional policy and initiatives for the nonprofit Kids in Need of Defense, which has been working with partners in Central America to facilitate reunifications.

Attorney: Case highlights ‘serious concerns’

Frydman said the case of the 4-year-old and her father, who were separated in April, is exactly the kind of situation advocates feared for months would arise.

“This is what we’ve been raising and trying to prevent,” she said. “This is a government-inflicted mess. This is totally and completely avoidable.”

ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt pointed to the case in a hearing Tuesday, noting that advocates have “very serious concerns” about how ICE is communicating with NGOs on the ground in Central America as reunification efforts continue.

“It’s both not getting any advance notice so the parents can be there to get the child, and the length of time it’s taking in many of the repatriations that are being done by ICE,” Gelernt said.

In contrast, Gelernt said, flights coordinated by Health and Human Services officials have been going smoothly, with enough advance notice provided.

Asked by a judge to respond, Justice Department attorney Scott Stewart, who’s representing the government, said ICE was handling a relatively small number of such cases. Sometimes, he said, operational “sensitivity concerns” limit when ICE officials can disclose flight timing information.

“We’ll look at that and see if there’s anything that can be done there,” Stewart said.

US District Judge Dana Sabraw said HHS and ICE officials should coordinate “so that this type of situation does not occur in the future.”

“We’ll work to address that, your honor,” Stewart said. “We take the point.”

ICE spokeswoman Sarah Rodriguez declined CNN’s request for comment on the 4-year-old’s case and the reunification process, citing the pending litigation.

Which federal agency handles repatriation flights depends on details of individual cases, Frydman said. ICE has been handling cases that were granted “voluntary departure,” a designation that lets people leave the United States without a deportation order on their records, she said.

Advocates are still struggling to track down parents

For months, officials and advocacy groups have been working to comply with Sabraw’s order to reunite immigrant families the government separated. More than 1,400 were reunified by the court’s July 26 deadline.

A major hurdle officials are still facing: reuniting deported parents with kids who remain in custody in the United States.

Officials have said hundreds of parents from separated families were deported without their children.

And tracking down those deported parents has presented major logistical challenges. Even now, Gelernt said, there are 10 parents who advocates haven’t been able to reach.

After making contact, advocates have to determine whether those parents want their kids to return. Some parents have made the heartbreaking choice to remain separated from their children.

According to the latest government tally, deported parents of 123 children in custody have said they don’t want their children to be returned.

It’s not clear how many kids have been reunited with deported parents, and how many have yet to make the journey.

The last status report provided by officials and advocates is more than 10 days old. Dated September 27, that report said 32 children had been reunified with parents in their countries of origin, and 27 more were in the pipeline. There were a total of 219 kids in government custody whose parents are no longer in the United States.

Officials have stressed that the numbers are constantly changing, and attorneys are still debating various statistics as they meet to sort out next steps in the case.

The federal judge praised attorneys Tuesday for their efforts.

“It appears we’re very close to really getting things wrapped up,” Sabraw said.

He’s ordered them to provide another status update on reunifications Monday.