By Bianca Bruno
SAN DIEGO – The federal government did not meet a court-ordered deadline Thursday to reunite all families with children over age five that were separated at the southwest border under President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy.
U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw of the Southern District of California ordered federal immigration officials to reunite all families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border by Thursday.
Children over five separated from their parents at the border number 2,551.
By Thursday afternoon, the government reported to Sabraw it had reunited 1,442 of the kids with their parents in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody. Another 378 children were “discharged in other appropriate circumstances,” including being reunited with their parents outside custody or being taken in by a sponsor.
The government claims the parents of 711 kids are either ineligible to be reunited or were “not available for discharge at this time.”
That figure includes 431 kids whose parents are “outside the U.S.,” meaning they were either deported or voluntarily departed without their children.
The Department of Homeland Security never did separate 20 of the 2,551 children from their parents, according to the government’s status update.
Thursday’s deadline was the second in a class action brought by asylum-seeking families who were separated from their kids after crossing into the U.S.
The government missed an earlier deadline to reunite families with children under age five as well. In response to the missed deadline, Sabraw ordered DNA tests to streamline the process of reuniting the younger children with their parents as quickly as possible.
In status conferences held in Sabraw’s downtown San Diego courtroom in the week leading up to Thursday’s deadline, it became clear the government would be unlikely to reunite families in which the parents had been deported, had left the country voluntarily or had been released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
At a status conference July 24, Justice Department attorney Sarah Fabian could not provide details on how many parents had been deported without their kids or released from ICE custody.
Sabraw pointed out in court Tuesday the figure for parents no longer in the country “could be very significant” since it likely represents families separated and parents who were deported before zero tolerance was formally adopted.
In a teleconference call Thursday, ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project attorney Lee Gelernt said his legal team still had not received a list from the government of families who had been reunited and where they were located.
The ACLU represents the separated families in the class action lawsuit.
Gelernt expressed dismay with the government’s claim that it is “proud” of the work it’s doing to reunite families.
“This is not a natural disaster, it is a disaster they created,” he said.
Gelernt said the ACLU would likely ask for remedies to reunify families quicker and for the government to be required to produce information faster, rather than seeking monetary penalties or sanctions for missing the July 26 deadline.
The ACLU also raised red flags this week about the government’s list of 120 children – as of Thursday’s status update – whose parents allegedly signed waivers agreeing to be deported without being reunified with their families.
On Wednesday, the ACLU filed over 100 pages of affidavits taken from attorneys working with families at detention centers that claim the government coerced parents into signing the waivers even when they did want to be reunited with their children before facing deportation.
Sabraw issued a stay on pending deportations after the ACLU raised concerns about reports the government was immediately booting families out of the country upon reunification. The ACLU has asked for a temporary restraining order to give families a week to explore their legal options before facing removal proceedings.
Without the temporary restraining order, Gelernt said Thursday reunited families with orders for removal will be immediately subject to deportation.
Sabraw will address the request for the temporary restraining order at a hearing scheduled for Friday afternoon.