SAN DIEGO (CN) – A federal judge heard debate Friday on whether less than two dozen of more than 400 parents deported without their children under the since-abandoned “zero-tolerance” immigration policy can return to the United States to seek asylum.
U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw considered a motion by the American Civil Liberties Union, representing families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border, to force the government to allow 21 of 420 parents who were deported without their children to return to the U.S. to seek asylum.
ACLU attorney Anand Balakrishnan told Sabraw Friday the families present “bona fide claims” for asylum but that 19 of the 21 parents were never given a credible fear interview upon presenting themselves at the port of entry, a right enshrined by Congress.
“The coercion and trauma of the entirety of the process impeded the parents’ ability to access their statutory rights to asylum,” Balakrishnan said.
But Justice Department attorney Scott Stewart said returning the parents would undermine a settlement last fall which outlined the rights of families separated at the border and did not include the right of deported parents to return to the U.S.
Stewart frequently raised his voice over the phone during the teleconference Friday. He suggested the plaintiffs only filed the motion because they weren’t “happy with the result” of being deported.
“This is a big deal motion,” Stewart said, calling the request a “test” and saying there “is no way” to rule in favor of returning the deported parents while also upholding the settlement agreement.
But Sabraw asked Stewart whether the government’s position changes if it turns out the parents’ claims of not receiving the credible fear interviews are true.
“People raise all sorts of claims when they don’t get the result they want in immigration proceedings,” Stewart said, suggesting the parents may have lied in what he called “vague” declarations filed alongside the motion.
Stewart could not say whether he’d be able to get information confirming or denying whether the parents ever received their credible fear interviews.
“People do not have a right to return. We do not agree anyone can return,” Stewart said.
Balakrishnan disputed the declaration statements by the parents were vague, saying they were obtained through thousands of hours of case screening by attorneys. He offered to obtain more information on the circumstances of their deportations if requested by Sabraw.
Sabraw took the matter under submission.