SAN DIEGO – A Justice Department attorney revealed Friday that 1,000 families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border face imminent deportation once a court-ordered stay on removal proceedings is lifted.
Justice Department attorney Sarah Fabian told U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw via teleconference Friday there are 1,000 families with “executable” orders of removal, whose cases have been considered by an immigration judge and were unsuccessful. Many of those families were released from custody upon reunification, but will be immediately subject to deportation when Sabraw lifts his stay.
Nearly 400 of the families with “executable” orders of removal are in custody and will likely be among the first deported, although Fabian could not tell Sabraw if the families have been given deportation dates.
The update came at a status conference following Thursday’s deadline for the government to reunite all 2,551 children over age five who were separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border under President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy. The government said all children eligible for reunification – over 1,800 – were either reunited with their parents or released to a sponsor.
The majority of the families – over 1,100 – were released upon reunification. About 300 families are being detained together, according to Justice Department attorney Scott Stewart.
But in a heated exchange with American Civil Liberties Union attorney Lee Gelernt, Stewart could not provide additional details on over 400 parents who were deported or voluntarily departed and have not been reunited with their kids.
When asked by Sabraw if the majority of the parents were deported without their children, Stewart confirmed most were, though some had been removed with their children.
Stewart rejected Gelernt’s request for additional information about the deported parents to find them, calling it an “onerous data demand” that would “hinder” reunification.
“We’re doing the best we can to give massive amounts of information to address the challenging past,” Stewart said.
Gelernt said the ACLU and organizations it is working with in the United States and abroad to locate the deported parents have not “made a real dent” in finding them to reunite them with their children.
Later in the hearing, Sabraw asked Gelernt tough questions while considering whether to issue a temporary restraining order the ACLU said is needed to halt deportations of reunited families. The ACLU wants families to be granted seven days to consider their legal options for asylum claims or other means to remain in the U.S.
The judge pointed out as a “practical matter” that many families had already been reunited for days and will have had time to consider if they wanted to proceed on asylum claims or return to their home countries as a family.
Gelernt disputed that families have had enough time to have meaningful consultations with each other or attorneys. He said families have been so traumatized from being separated that kids wouldn’t leave their parents’ side and parents constantly asked attorneys if their child would be taken away again.
While Gelernt said the families needed to be together to make a “family decision,” Sabraw noted that under the law what matters is the parent’s due process right to family integrity and not a child’s view of the situation.
“The government got it all wrong at the beginning, but that’s been rectified,” Sabraw said about the government’s efforts to reunify families.
Sabraw questioned whether “extraordinary relief” is warranted by restraining the federal government from exercising its discretion on immigration matters. Instead, he asked whether there could just be further vetting of the 120 parents the government claims signed waivers to be deported without their children.
The ACLU this week submitted over 100 pages of affidavits detailing parents’ claims they signed the waivers under coercion or because they didn’t understand what they were signing.
Sabraw indicated the next steps in the case will be to find and reunify parents who were deported without their children or who were released from custody and cannot be located.
He said the final step will be to set up a policy or procedure for government agencies involved in immigration to communicate with each other in the future.
“This problem cannot repeat. What was lost in the process was the family. Children didn’t know where their parents were, parents didn’t know where their children were and the government didn’t know either,” Sabraw said.
The judge said he will issue a decision on the request for a temporary restraining order over the weekend.