SAN DIEGO (CN) – During a Friday status conference in the family separation class action out of San Diego, government attorneys revealed only a fraction of families have been reunited but said they’re going “full steam ahead” to meet next week’s reunification deadline.
U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw ordered the federal government to reunite all families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border by July 26. The order was made in a class action lawsuit filed by asylum-seeking families separated at the border. The families are being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Justice Department attorney August Flentje said as of Friday morning 450 children over age five out of 2,551 kids who were separated from their parents had been reunited. The updated figure jumped by nearly 100 family reunifications from what the government reported in a status update submitted to Sabraw Thursday night.
Flentje said the government is moving “full steam ahead with reunification” and that Department of Health and Human Services Cmdr. Jonathan White, who is overseeing the reunification of parents and kids, is “moving efficiently.”
“I am just very impressed with the effort that is being made. It really does appear that there’s been great progress,” Sabraw said.
But the sticking point in the government meeting its Thursday deadline for reuniting separated families is likely the hundreds of parents who have been deported without their children or released from Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody into the community.
Flentje acknowledged “complicated issues will arise in the next week” in tracking down parents. He said “we’re hoping most are in touch with HHS to move forward quickly” but that there were some “tricky, hard to find” parents that had been released from custody.
He could not tell Sabraw Friday how many parents had been deported without their children but said the government is currently working to provide a list to the ACLU with the figure. He also did not answer Sabraw’s question about where parents who had been released from immigration custody were located.
As of Friday morning, Flentje said 954 parents had been “green lighted” to reunify with their kids through a “very active process” which involves interviews. Many of those reunifications are expected to take place over the weekend, as White testified earlier in the week that the process in place is to reunify children and parents “as quickly as possible.”
For the 136 parents who had waived reunification with their children during the final “green light” interview process with immigration officials, Sabraw postured: “I’m assuming with many of these parents they have made an informed decision to most likely be removed separately from their children.”
Flentje said many parents believe it is in the “best interest” of their children to remain in the U.S. and pursue their own asylum claim. He said parents can designate a sponsor for the child.
ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt, who attended the hearing remotely via conference call, raised concerns those parents who waived their reunification rights might not “fully understand the fairly momentous decision to never see their child again.” He asked the government provide information on how many of those parents still remained in the country so the ACLU could reach out to them.
Gelernt also raised concerns about the ACLU being able to counsel parents who had been reunited with their kids in family detention facilities and faced final orders of removal, saying they needed to “prioritize seeing those parents above all others.” He asked the government provide them “immediate information” on those families so that legal services could be provided.
Another status conference in the case is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.