Judge Calls Feds’ Lack of Progress Reunifying Families ‘Unacceptable’

SAN DIEGO (CN) – A federal judge Friday told government attorneys their lack of progress reuniting over 400 deported parents with their children after they were separated at the U.S.-Mexico border was “unacceptable.”

“Only 12 or 13 of nearly 500 parents have been located, which is just unacceptable at this point,” U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw said in a Friday afternoon teleconference with attorneys.

“All of this is the result of the government’s separation and inability and failure to track and reunite. For every parent who is not located, there will be a permanently orphaned child and that is 100 percent the responsibility of the administration,” Sabraw said.

In a Thursday status update in the class action filed in the Southern District of California on behalf of parents separated from their kids under President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, Justice Department attorney Sarah Fabian provided vague details on how the government would reunite 410 families in which a parent was deported.

The government put the onus on the American Civil Liberties Union to do the investigative work to find parents.

Sabraw said Friday he was “disappointed” in the government’s outline for reuniting families, saying he expected a detailed blueprint similar to what Commander Jonathan White with the Department of Health and Human Services came up with for reuniting “eligible” families by the July 26 deadline.

The judge ordered the government to put a “point person” in charge of reunifying families with deported parents, suggesting someone with the State Department or Office of Refugee Resettlement.

But Sabraw also wants the ACLU to have a “steering committee” to work with attorneys and volunteers to coordinate reunification efforts and serve as a liaison between the court and government.

ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project attorney Lee Gelernt said the ACLU is working with worldwide law firms and a non-governmental organization in Central America to locate parents, and that those groups can report their progress back to Sabraw.

Gelernt said about 95 percent of deported parents are believed to be in Guatemala and Honduras.

But Gelernt raised concerns the government is not providing all important contact information to the ACLU in a timely manner so it can get in touch with deported parents to facilitate reunification.

According to Gelernt’s court brief Thursday, the Office of Refugee Resettlement files for separated children have contact phone numbers for deported parents that were never handed over to the ACLU. The government apparently did not use the contact information to try to reunite families with deported parents by the July 26 deadline, either.

Sabraw asked Justice Department attorney Scott Stewart for the government to provide the contact information from the children’s files to the ACLU on a rolling basis with a firm deadline for all information to be provided by August 10.

Sabraw noted that no “good” information exists on the whereabouts of about 120 parents.

“There has to be attention paid to those individuals,” he told Stewart.

Stewart said he hoped to “close some gaps on that” when the government reviewed the children’s files. He also noted the incomplete address information Gelernt complained about was “what we received from parents.”

Nearly 100 missing parents have been released from Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody into the U.S. Stewart said 15 of the parents’ files are under “review,” and that they need to “pound the pavement to look for them.” Some information is available for the 80 or so parents who are either living in the community or in “other” custody.

Sabraw declined to rule on a pending motion for a temporary restraining order to stay immediate deportations of reunited families, deferring to Judge Paul Friedman in Washington D.C.

Friedman is considering whether to transfer the case to San Diego or to issue a ruling himself on a similar motion in a class action brought on behalf of the children of separated families.

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