SAN DIEGO (CN) – The federal judge overseeing the family-separation class action and reunification of thousands of families separated under the since-abandoned “zero tolerance” immigration policy said Friday all of the original 2,815 children of class members had been reunified with their parents or placed with sponsors, declaring the case “concluded.”
“We have done all we can do and have successfully reunited families or heard from the parents and they’ve addressed the question of whether they want to reunify or not. We have completed the process to this original class,” U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw said during a status conference in the two-year-old case Friday.
Of the 2,815 children separated from their families, 2,166 were reunified with their parents after the class action challenging the practice was filed by a Congolese mother in February 2018.
The other children – 631 – were placed with sponsors after consulting with the kids’ parents or they turned 18 after the class action was filed.
The parents of six children were found unfit to be reunified with their kids. Those children are in the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
The parents of another eight kids have already been deported and have told the American Civil Liberties Union they do not want to be reunified with their children.
The steering committee tasked with reunifying families was unable to confirm the parent’s wishes for reunification of one child.
Another three children in the government’s care were determined not to have been separated from a parent.
But the milestone in the family separation case does not mean the work of reunifying separated families is done: employees with migrant rights nongovernmental organization Justice in Motion are still working to find hundreds of parents in Central American countries included in the expanded class action after it was revealed more families were separated than initially known.
Of the 1,030 additional children believed to have been separated from their parents, only 395 parents have been reached by the NGO and other attorneys working with the ACLU.
Based on unsuccessful attempts to reach parents by telephone, steering committee head Steven Herzog said 598 parents will need to be reached by other means, including on-the-ground searches in their countries of origin or through calling toll-free telephone lines set up in the U.S., Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and El Salvador.
On-the-ground efforts to locate more than 300 “unreachable” parents in Central America has resulted in 151 parents being found.
Herzog said nonprofit members still need to locate 180 parents in Central America.
About 220 “unreachable” parents are believed to be in the U.S., he added.
Nonprofit workers have also sent out more than 1,000 letters to parents and the sponsors of separated children, as well as press releases in a media campaign aimed at connecting with parents to find out their reunification preferences for their children.
“It’s ongoing and slow and painstaking,” Herzog told Sabraw.
“I think the efforts are still fruitful, still productive and we are going to keep doing it,” he added.
A status conference was scheduled for April 17.