A federal judge slammed the Trump administration’s foot-dragging in reuniting parents and young children separated under the government’s harsh immigration policies, calling the slow progress in reunifying families “unacceptable.”
Judge Dana Sabraw rejected the administration’s efforts to pass the task of reuniting immigrant parents and children to the American Civil Liberties Union, saying in a hearing conducted by telephone late Friday that the government is “100 percent” responsible for bringing back together the families that it ripped apart with its “zero tolerance” policy.
Sabraw ordered the administration to name a dedicated official who would be responsible for overseeing the effort going forward. The judge rejected the Trump administration’s efforts to pass responsibility to the ACLU for tracking down some 500 parents removed from the country without their children, CNN reported.
Sabraw said that if the government doesn’t track down the parents, the children risk being “permanently orphaned.” The judge called the government’s foot-dragging “unacceptable.”
“Many of these parents were removed from the country without their child, all of this is the result of the government’s separation and then inability and failure to track and reunite,” Sabraw said.
“In reviewing the status report it appears that only 12 or 13 of close to 500 parents have been located, which is just unacceptable at this point,” Sabraw said.
CNN reported that Sabraw has order the administration to name one or two officials who will be the point persons leading the effort to reunite families, and to provide a detailed action plan for reuniting children with their parents, who in many cases have already been deported.
As ThinkProgress reported on Thursday, the government wants the ACLU, which has filed a lawsuit on behalf of the separated families, to take the lead in fixing a mess that the Trump administration created with its zero tolerance policy that forced families to be torn asunder.
The U.S. Department of Justice suggested that the ACLU could use its “network of law firms, volunteers and others” to help reunite the families.
Speaking to MSNBC Friday night, Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s immigrants’ rights project, said the government bears the responsibility for reuniting families, although the organization is doing what it can to help. He accused the Trump administration, however, of withholding vital information that the organization needs to help reunite families.
“The government is sitting on information that could help us, and they haven’t given it to us,” Gelernt told the All In with Chris Hayes program.
“They have phone numbers of parents, they haven’t given it to us. We got addresses from them — sometimes it’s just a city with 700,000 people. That was the address they gave us. They’re telling us to get us the phone numbers, they need eight more days. I mean, that’s terrible,” Gelernt said.
He added that the situation for these young children is getting more dire as weeks drag on since being wrested away from their parents.
“I think without this judge’s ruling, we may have been looking at 5,000 kids separated by now. Now we’re down to 500, but those 500, as the judge said, are critical. We’re talking about them being orphaned if we don’t find these parents.”
And we’re done! The takeaway from today: Sabraw is not signing off on the government’s proposal for tracking down deported parents (which was basically “let the ACLU do it”) and is telling them to produce a point person who can produce a plan.
— Dara Lind (@DLind) August 3, 2018
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), who has been one of the most proactive U.S. lawmakers on the family separation issue, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 late Friday that a big part of the problem was that officials did a sloppy, incomplete job of gathering data that could later be used to reunite families.
“The situation is, that the government has so botched the connection between the parents and the children that they’d like to shed that responsibility and put it off onto someone else,” he said.
“In terms of street addresses, many of their files just say things like ‘sin calle’ which means ‘without a street,’ or maybe lists a city and no other details and they’re finding it difficult to find the parents since they didn’t track the information. They’d like to say, well, we messed it up, but let’s make sure someone else has to clean this up.”