U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw set a deadline for midnight July 26 for the Trump administration to reunite the thousands migrant families it forcibly separated under its “zero tolerance” policy.
According to a court filing submitted Thursday night, the administration managed to reunite just 1,442 of those children with their parents in ICE custody. Another 378 were released under “other appropriate circumstances,” including reunification with a parent already released by ICE or released to another relative or approved sponsor.
The administration identified 711 children they say are not “eligible” for reunification by the court’s deadline.
Of those, 67 have a parent whose background check or case file review found a “red flag,” 79 have a parent who was released by ICE and who has not been located by the administration, 431 whose parent was deported, 94 whose parent has not been location for reasons not specified in the filing, and 120 whose parent the administration claims waived their right to be reunified.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the parents in court, submitted testimony earlier this week that many if not all of those who signed such waivers were coerced or misled into doing so, given mere minutes to make the decision, and given forms in languages they could not read.
Yet on a call with reporters Thursday night, Trump administration officials stood by their claim that these parents knowingly and willingly signed away their right to get their child back.
“They had the opportunity for reunification prior to removal and they declined that opportunity,” said Matthew Albence, the head of ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations. “These parents who paid smugglers $5,000, $6,000 dollars to get their children here, and who made the very dangerous journey across Central America and Mexico, they’re not going to give up a chance for their child to remain here, so they frequently decline to have that child removed with them.”
Asked if it is difficult for his agents to separate parents from their young children, Albence raised his voice in frustration.
“They do their jobs with compassion, dignity and professionalism,” he said. “The fact that an individual has a child, that doesn’t absolve them of the criminal activity they are engaged in.”
Though the court has ordered the administration to reunite the more than 400 parents they deported without their children, Albence seemed dismissive of that responsibility. “We don’t keep track of individuals once they’ve been deported,” he said.
Chris Meekins, the official overseeing reunifications at the Department of Health and Human Services, added that the administration is waiting for orders from Judge Sabraw before beginning to look for the deported parents.
“We’re going to have conversations with the judge about what his vision is,” Meekins said. “We look forward to working with the court on an appropriate path forward.”
The ACLU and the Trump administration will appear before Judge Sabraw on Friday.
Read the administration’s filing below: