Judge Weighs Whether To Reunite Two Families Before Current Deadline

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 30: People demonstrate and call out words of encouragement to immigrants held inside the Metropolitan Detention Center after marching to decry aggressive Trump administration immigration and refugee policies on June 30, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Although President Trump was forced to reverse his policy of removing all children from their immigrant or asylum-seeking parents, little clarity appears to be seen as to how agencies can fulfill a court order to reunite thousands of children and parents detained far apart by multiple agencies. Yesterday, the Justice Department filed papers in a Los Angeles federal court to have families arrested for illegal border crossings incarcerated together indefinitely. The rally is one of more than 700 such protests being held throughout the nation.  (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
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In a hearing in federal court on Thursday, a judge weighed whether to order the reunification of children separated from two immigrant parents who sued the federal government, before the pending July 26 deadline set by a judge in California.

U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman oversaw a hearing in the case of three immigrant families separated from their children who sought for the court to intervene and reunite them with their children promptly. One of the parents has been reunited with her three children since the case began, but the other two in the case remain apart from their children.

The judge said that he needed more information from both the lawyers for the parents and from the government before he could issue an order in the case. Friedman must determine whether to grant plaintiffs a temporary restraining order, which would call for better communication and information for the parents, and a preliminary injunction, which would call for the quick reunification of the two remaining families.

Friedman quizzed lawyers for the immigrant parents on why he should intervene and order the two parents reunified with their children given that a federal judge in California had already ordered certain parents to be reunified by July 26. He asked Jerome Wesevich, one of the lawyers representing the parents, to explain why they should be reunited with their kids in 72 hours, as opposed to by July 26.

Wesevich argued that there is “no specific reason” and no evidence that the government should not reunite families as quickly as possible. Earlier in the hearing, Wesevich argued that the government “has enormous power to act” and that the proof that the government is doing everything it can is “underwhelming.”

The judge noted that the government said in a memo made public on Wednesday that it currently anticipates that it will reunify at least one additional parent in the case, identified with the initials A.P.F., with his child by July 26. However, Wesevich argued that the government’s plans are subject to change.

Friedman suggested that he had at least some sympathy for the parents separated for their kids and any harm caused by continued separation.

“I get the argument that each day is irreparable harm,” he said, adding that the medical and anecdotal evidence from the parents is “persuasive.”

Yet, Friedman asked how additional information on reunification plans, which the lawyers for the parents have asked for in a temporary restraining order, would help reduce any harm.

Wesevich argued that it causes emotional damage “to not know where your children are” and that the damage caused to the children will impact their relationship with their parents upon reunification.

“Their irreparable harm is their parents’ irreparable harm,” Wesevich said.

The lawyer arguing for the government, Nicole Murley, said that it’s not fair to say that the government is not trying to reunite families, citing the announcement Thursday morning that 57 young children had been reunified with their parents.

Friedman noted, however, that the lawyers for the parents claimed in a filing last week that case managers, who would be able to provide updates on the children, are often unavailable or unresponsive. Murley replied that the government is trying to provide information and asked that the plaintiffs bring concerns directly to lawyers for the government.

The bulk of the Thursday hearing was spent discussing the status of one of the parents in the case, identified by her initials E.F. The government argued that E.F., who failed her initial test to qualify for asylum, certified on a waiver that she would want to be deported without her child. However, the lawyers for E.F. argued that their client did not understand the waiver and does not want to be removed from the country without her child. Friedman said that he had insufficient information on the wishes of E.F., and asked both the plaintiffs and defendants to submit updates on Friday about her status.

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