Deportation Of Reunited Immigrant Families Won’t Move Forward — At Least For Now

ByMonica Busch
Sarah Morris/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

The Trump administration has hit yet another roadblock in its quest to swiftly remove undocumented migrants from the country. In San Diego on Monday, a federal judge ordered the government stop deportation of reunited immigrant families for the time being. The order came on the heels of a request from the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the families. Judge Dana Sabraw gave the government one week to determine a response to documents that the ACLU produced in the case, according to the Associated Press.

The ACLU argued that in general, families need at least a week between reunification and deportation so that they can determine whether or not they want to claim asylum. The ACLU said that such a decision "cannot be made until parents not only have had time to fully discuss the ramifications with their children, but also to hear from the child's advocate or counsel, who can explain to the parent the likelihood of the child ultimately prevailing in his or her own asylum case if left behind in the U.S. (as well as where the child is likely to end up living)," as quoted by the Associated Press.

There are currently 2,551 children aged 5-17 in government custody, according to HuffPost. An official reportedly confirmed in court that the government has not identified a parent for 71 of those children.

"Due to their unlawful separations, parents and children have had no chance to have meaningful conversations with one another about the family’s collective options," the ACLU said in its filing, according to Bloomberg.

According to several reports, the ACLU's request was partially in response to rumors of planned "mass deportations," which would seek to remove families immediately after they were reunited. Sabraw is on deck to make a permanent ruling on the matter after the government's official response.

"The judge once again made clear that the government unconstitutionally took these children away and now must do everything in its power to reunite them safely and by the deadline," said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, in a statement about Monday's court date.

The family separation and reunification debacle stems from statements issued by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Department of Homeland Security in both April and May, which ordered the implementation of a "zero-tolerance" policy regarding unlawful entry into the United States. The policy required that anyone caught illegally entering the country be prosecuted.

The sudden influx of mandatory prosecutions resulted in thousands of children being separated from their families, because children are not allowed to be kept in jails. They were, instead, sent to separate detention facilities, some of which have been described as "child cages" or "baby jails."

The mandatory family separations were dialed back via an executive order signed by President Trump, but thousands of children have remained in government custody as officials have scrambled to determine the best way to reunite children with their parents.

The family reunification process has not been without its upsets however. Just last Friday, Sabraw chastised the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) after a senior official suggested that streamlining the reunifications could put some of the children in danger. Specifically, that official, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Chris Meekins, said in a declaration "that process will likely result in the placing of children with adults who falsely claimed to be their parents or into potentially abusive environments."

In response, CNN reports, Sabraw said that "HHS appears to be operating in a vacuum, entirely divorced from the undisputed circumstances of the case."

Sabraw has ordered the Trump Administration to return children ages 5 and up to their parents by July 26. It's not yet clear whether that deadline will be met.