SAN DIEGO (CN) – After the American Civil Liberties Union raised the alarm, a federal judge on Monday ordered the federal government to halt for now deportations of families separated at the border immediately after reuniting them.
At a status conference in San Diego Monday morning, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw agreed to the ACLU’s request to stay pending deportations of families until at least July 23.
The ACLU made the request after reports over the weekend that families and children were being immediately deported after being reunified, without giving them any time to decide whether to pursue asylum or other legal options to remain in the United States.
Sabraw is presiding over a class action brought by the ACLU in San Diego’s federal court over the separation of over 2,000 minors from their parents.
The judge has ordered the government to reunite all children over age five with their families by July 26. Cmdr. Jonathan White of the Department of Health and Human Services, who is overseeing the reunification of parents and kids, said Monday the government is on track to comply with Sabraw’s deadline.
An earlier order by Sabraw directing the government to reunite all children under age five with their parents was not carried out completely by the judge’s July 9 deadline.
A government attorney could not tell Sabraw during Monday’s status conference how many families have so far been reunited but said the court would be updated with the figure as soon as possible.
White testified Monday about the current process in place to reunify children and parents “as quickly as possible.”
He said as of Monday morning, 2,551 children between the ages of 5 and 17 had been identified as being separated from their parents. Of those kids, parent matches have been made for 2,480 of them – leaving 71 children without their parents identified.
ACLU attorney and deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project Lee Gelernt, said Monday he was “extremely troubled” by how many children have not had their parent identified.
“It’s beyond imagination that they’ve taken these children away and haven’t kept track of who their parents are,” Gelernt said.
White said children are currently being held at 106 locations across the country. He detailed for Sabraw how multiple government agencies including the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Health and Human Services and Immigration and Customs Enforcement are sharing data on kids and their parents to help reunite families and determine if there are “red flags” which would warrant further review before families can be reunited.
Those “red flags” include criminal history of parents that is “incompatible with child safety,” White said, including crimes of child or sexual abuse or trafficking. Questions of parentage also raise red flags.
White said over 1,300 parents had passed the “red flag” review and await the final interview with ICE before they can be reunited with their children.
Sabraw said he believes White was “exactly the person that is needed” at the government to get families reunited, saying the commander’s testimony gave him a level of “comfort” that the government’s process to reunite families would allow a large number of reunifications to happen quickly.
“It is the responsibility of the government to make it right. I have every confidence you are the right person to do this,” Sabraw said.
The government was ordered to submit briefs on the deportation issue by July 23. The matter will be discussed at a status conference set for July 24.
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