SAN DIEGO (CN) – Attorneys for the federal government revealed for the first time Thursday how it plans to reunite parents deported without their kids under President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, but its plan appears vague and puts the onus on the American Civil Liberties Union to reunite families.
A status update was submitted Thursday afternoon to U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw as part of the class action brought by families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border. In it, Justice Department attorney Sarah Fabian revealed the government is working with the State Department and government officials in foreign countries to locate and reunify families.
But Fabian suggested the ACLU should use its “considerable resources and their network of law firms, NGOs, volunteers and others” paired with information provided by the government to get in contact with deported parents and facilitate reunifications.
A breakdown of whether the whereabouts of some of the deported parents is known was not provided by the government in the status update. But in an update to the government Wednesday, the ACLU apparently provided a list of 13 people it has located.
The revelation comes after government officials missed a court-ordered deadline last week to reunite all separated families with children aged five and older. More than 400 parents were deported without their children and the government has not said whether it knows where the parents are or how it plans to find them.
Fabian asked Sabraw to order the ACLU to provide weekly updates to the government with information on deported parents it has located “to facilitate the steps in the reunification process.”
The government also wants the ACLU to determine whether the parents want to be reunited with their kids or waive reunification, and to ensure the parents consult with an attorney regarding that decision.
The ACLU would also be responsible for confirming the parent is who they say they are before they can be reunited with their child, according to the government’s request.
Suggesting ongoing court cases on family separation impact whether reunifications can take place, the government asked Sabraw decline ordering the reunifications to take place within 7 days of a parent being located – as requested by the ACLU – but to “allow defendants time to work with these foreign governments, and with plaintiff’s counsel, to determine how best to complete reunifications following the resolution of the legal issues.”
The government also asked Sabraw to deny a request that the government produce “A” files for all the deported parents, calling it an onerous task. Instead, the government said it would share phone numbers, addresses and other contact information that would be “helpful” in locating the deported parents.
In his response, ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project attorney Lee Gelernt said his organization and others “will do whatever they can to help locate the deported parents, but emphasize that the government must bear the ultimate burden of finding the parents.”
Gelernt pointed out the Office for Refugee Resettlement has many of the phone numbers for deported parents but did not provide that information to the ACLU.
He suggested the government was allowed “to miss the deadline for deported parents on the assumption that the government could not possibly locate these parents before the deadline,” even though it was in possession of contact information and “should have been reaching out to those parents for purposes of reunification.”
Gelernt said the government should “be taking the initiative” to provide useful information to the ACLU in helping to locate deported parents, rather than waiting for attorneys to request the information.
In terms of reunifying families, Gelernt requested families be reunited within seven days. He offered two options: for children to be accompanied by a case worker back to their home country if the parents do not wish to return to the United States; or for parents who want to come to the U.S. to retrieve their child be granted humanitarian parole to reunite in the U.S. The government would then pay for the families to return home.
A status conference in the case is scheduled for Friday afternoon.