loren elliott/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
A federal judge said the Trump administration is responsible for finding hundreds of immigrant parents deported or released into the U.S. without their children in the wake of the government’s policy of separating families at the Mexican border.
U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw said not finding those parents, as many as 400 who may have been deported primarily to Central America, could leave hundreds of children permanently orphaned.
“That is 100% the responsibility of the administration,” Judge Sabraw said during a hearing Friday in San Diego.
So far about a dozen deported parents had been located by civil-rights groups, nongovernmental organizations or lawyers, Justice Department lawyers and the American Civil Liberties Union said in a status report filed with the court Thursday.
Judge Sabraw said it was “just unacceptable at this point” that so few deported parents had been found and ordered the government to identify a single person or group team to create a detailed plan to find the remaining missing parents and reunite them with their children.
Martin Panuco/Associated Press
“I have to say it was disappointing in that there was not a plan proposed,” Judge Sabraw said. He told the government that a process must be put in place so that children aren’t permanently orphaned “or if it does occur, it occurs on a very, very small percentage of these children.”
Scott Stewart, a Justice Department lawyer, said Friday that the government was continuing to comb through records for the separated children to share additional information about the parents with the ACLU.
The judge also directed the ACLU, which sued the government over the practice of separating families at the border in February, to create a steering committee to work with the government on its efforts to locate the parents.
As many as 400 parents have been deported or otherwise left the U.S. without their children and around 80 others have been released into the U.S., the government said Friday.
More than 2,500 children were separated from their parents at the border, most after being caught crossing the border illegally, by the Trump administration amid its crackdown on illegal border crossers.
President Trump signed an executive order ending the practice on June 20. About a week later Judge Sabraw ordered the government to reunite the separated children and parents and gave them four weeks to complete the task. More than 1,800 children were reconnected with their parents by the deadline.
The government said any parents who were deported without their children agreed to leave the U.S. alone. In some cases, the government said, children couldn’t rejoin their parents because of a parent’s criminal history or a parent waived their right to be reunified.
The Trump administration has been widely criticized for its policy of separating families and the lack of advanced planning to reunite families.
Cmdr. Jonathan White, the administration official in charge of the initial reunification effort, told a Senate panel this week that he repeatedly warned the government about the possible repercussions of separating families while he was at the Health and Human Services Department’s Office of Refugee Resettlement.
“Over the previous year, we raised a number of concerns in the ORR program about any policy which would result in family separation due to concerns we had about the best interest of the child,” Mr. White testified.
He told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he had warned the “separation of children from their parents entails significant risk of harm to the children.”
Write to Alicia A. Caldwell at Alicia.Caldwell@wsj.com
Appeared in the August 4, 2018, print edition as ‘U.S. Told To Find Deported Parents.’