A federal judge said Friday that the responsibility was “100 percent” on the Trump administration to locate and reunify parents it separated from their children at the border.
In a conference call with lawyers ― for the case involving a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of separated migrant parents ― U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego said the government needed to provide a clear plan on how it was going to locate and reunify parents with nearly 600 kids still separated and held in government-contracted shelters.
“It appears only 12 or 13 of over 500 parents have been located, which is just unacceptable at this point. And it appears that there is not a plan in place,” Sabraw said on the conference call with lawyers from the government and the ACLU, noting that many of those parents had been “removed from the country without their child.”
Sabraw added he was disappointed that a status report the parties had provided Thursday did not propose a plan for finding the parents.
“All of this is the result of the government’s separation and then inability and failure to track and reunite,” Sabraw said. “And for every parent who is not located there will be a permanently orphaned child, and that is 100 percent the responsibility of the administration.”
In June, Sabraw gave the Trump administration a July 26 deadline to reunite the more than 2,500 migrant children officials had taken from parents as a result of President Donald Trump’s hard-line zero tolerance policy on immigration. A week after that deadline, the U.S. Justice Department lawyers reported that 572 children remained separated in government-contracted shelters without their parents.
The government had not deemed those parents “eligible” for reunification because they had been deported, had been released into the interior of the country, had failed a background check or had yet to be located. The parents of more than 400 detained children, for instance, were no longer in the U.S. ― the majority had been deported to Guatemala and Honduras, the ACLU said.
Earlier this week, Sabraw ordered the government to detail its plan for reuniting kids with parents who were deported or released.
In the Thursday status report court filings, the Trump administration said it was on the ACLU and “their considerable resources and their network of law firms, NGOs, volunteers, and others” to locate parents who had been deported or released. The ACLU, in turn, said the onus was squarely on the government to find parents its officials had separated from children.
The judge on Friday said he would issue an order later that day or early next week asking that the government appoint a lead person or team from the State Department or the Health and Human Services Department’s Office of Refugee Resettlement to supervise and present to the court a clear plan for remaining reunifications.
In discussing the government’s plan to locate parents, the judge repeated: “This responsibility, of course, is 100 percent on the government. It has the sole burden and responsibility and obligation to make this happen.”
However, Sabraw also noted that, although it was the government’s responsibility to reunify the families, it was also “in everyone’s interest” for the ACLU to help. He asked that they, too, appoint a lead firm or group and provide a plan to use requested information from the government to assist in locating parents.
“The judge is refusing to let the government off the hook for the mess it made,” ACLU lawyer Lee Gelernt said in a statement Friday, also alleging that the Trump administration had been withholding information that “could be helpful” in locating the still-separated parents.
“Every day the government has sat on this information has been another day of suffering for these families,” he added.