The Trump administration told U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw on Tuesday that 1,012 migrant children who were forcibly separated under the government’s “zero tolerance” policy have been reunited with their parents, and they expect to have the rest of those they deem “eligible” reunited by the court’s deadline on Thursday.
“Other than potential weather-related travel issues, I know of no other impediments,” Justice Department attorney Sarah Fabian told Sabraw, prompting the judge’s enthusiastic praise.
“This is a remarkable achievement,” he said. “The government is to be commended and has done yeoman’s work in this regard.”
But hundreds of families remain separated, and as many as 463 parents have already been deported without their children. The government’s prior promise to the American Civil Liberties Union to give them a list of those parents has not yet been fulfilled, and the ACLU pleaded with Judge Sabraw on Tuesday to order the government to wait at least seven days post-reunification before deporting any more of the affected parents.
“Talking to our attorneys on the ground at these detention centers, things are really a mess,” said Lee Gelernt, the ACLU’s lead attorney for the class action case. “We absolutely need seven days to counsel these people. There is no way for us to provide meaningful consultation otherwise.”
The Trump administration filed a response earlier Tuesday arguing against the seven-day deportation stay, saying that parents have had adequate time to talk to their children by phone prior to reunification about whether they preferred to be deported together or whether the child would be left in the United States and possibly released to another relative. Gelernt strongly disagreed that this was adequate due process for the parents.
“People had maybe one short call where the child was crying the whole time,” he said. “Nothing can get done in that kind of situation. And still, the parents have no idea what is happening. As a sign of the level of confusion, many of them signed these forms giving away their child even if they didn’t have a final order of removal, which makes absolutely no sense.”
Gelernt told the court he plans to submit sworn testimony from his attorneys working on the ground with the separated families to convince the court that they are not currently receiving due process.
“Detained parents are being put in groups of 50 and told, ‘Here are your rights in 3 minutes. Now sign the form,'” he told Judge Sabraw. “I think you will be shocked when you read these affidavits.”
The Trump administration took umbrage with Gelernt’s description of the reunification process and with his plan to submit testimony.
“It’s based on just rumors and suppositions,” Justice Department attorney Scott Stewart complained. “Now, despite our days and nights of trying to negotiate something with them, we’re going to be blindsided by an affidavit. It’s improper. And if these are truly anecdotal, we are at a disadvantage because we have to rush around and find out what people are talking about.”
“The government takes issue with the assertion that there is a mess on the ground,” Stewart added. “We strongly contest this characterization.We have many reasons to be proud of this effort.”
At the conclusion of Tuesday’s hearing, Judge Sabraw ordered the Trump administration to give the ACLU a list of the separated parents who are no longer in the country, and information on whether they were forcibly deported or consented to “voluntary departure.” The administration is also required to provide the names of the parents who have been released by ICE into the United States and whether the government has been able to contact them.
“Some of this information is unpleasant, but it’s the reality of the case,” the judge mused. “It’s the reality of a policy that resulted in large numbers of families being separated without forethought as to reunification. This is the fallout we’re seeing. There may be 463, there may be more, parents who are unaccounted for or who may have been removed without their child. That’s a deeply troubling reality. The plaintiffs are entitled to that information. There has to be an accounting so we can more intelligently discuss where to go from here.”
The ACLU and the Trump administration will be back in court this Friday to argue over the question of the deportation stay and the fate of those the government has deemed ineligible for reunification.
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