SAN DIEGO (CN) – An immigration attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union told a federal judge Friday he’s the “only person left” who can help asylum-seeking kids reunite with their parents after being torn apart under the Trump administration’s zero tolerance immigration policy.
“Your honor is the only person left who can really help these kids,” ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project attorney Lee Gelernt told U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in a teleconference Friday attended by attorneys and reporters.
Sabraw scheduled the conference following President Donald Trump’s executive order this week ending the federal government’s practice of separating immigrant families who enter the country to seek asylum or without authorization.
Over 2,000 kids have been separated from parents facing immigration charges and sent to states across the country.
Gelernt acknowledged he was somewhat “pleading” with Sabraw to issue a preliminary injunction as soon as Friday night, calling the separation of kids and parents a “humanitarian crisis of the utmost proportions.”
He suggested the judge issue an order requiring kids under five be reunited with their parents in 10 days and all minors being reunited with their families within 30 days.
But the judge declined to do so, and instead ordered the ACLU to submit briefs detailing their injunction request by Monday, with the government ordered to respond by Wednesday.
The ACLU filed the class action in February challenging the government’s separation of families seeking asylum. Last month, Sabraw found the practice did not violate the Asylum Statute but that the ACLU did provide enough facts to survive dismissal as to their claim for due process violations.
The class action, Ms L. v. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, was brought by a Congolese mother and her 7-year-old daughter who were separated thousands of miles for months after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego seeking asylum.
Ms. L claims she was held in a separate immigration detention facility from her young daughter without the government showing she was an unfit parent or posed a danger to her child.
She was later released from immigration custody and reunited with her daughter after filing the class action in the Southern District of California.
Gelernt raised concerns Friday over an exemption in the executive order which noted families could be separated if it’s in the “best interest of the child.” He noted that was the same argument the government used in justifying the separation of Ms. L from her daughter, claiming it was in the child’s best interest because they could not determine if Ms. L was her parent.
But a DNA test ordered by Sabraw proved their familial relation.
When pressed by Sabraw to answer questions about the current status of reuniting immigrant families, Department of Justice attorney Sarah Fabian could not provide many answers to the judge, including whether the government was still implementing the zero tolerance policy.
“I just don’t have the information to answer all those questions today,” Fabian said.
But Fabian did reveal that the Department of Homeland Security does not communicate with the Office of Refugee Resettlement – which is tasked with taking care of the immigrant kids – when parents are released from federal custody after serving time for immigration offenses.
Fabian said when a child is transferred from DHS to ORR, there is a database portal used to request ORR provide “space” for the child and that information about the child and parents would be entered there.
But there is currently no formal policy or between DHS and ORR requiring the agencies communicate with one another when a parent is released to ensure the swift reunification of families.
“Whether ORR knows when a parent is released from custody I don’t know that they do,” Fabian said when questioned by Sabraw.
“ORR is not notified when a parent is released from criminal custody?” Sabraw followed up.
“Not to my knowledge,” Fabian responded.
The judge indicated he would issue an order as “quickly and reasonably as possible” once he receives additional briefs from the attorneys next week.