700+ Migrant Families Still Separated as Reunification Deadline Passes


While national attention has drifted away from the family separation crisis President Donald Trump and his administration created when they began their unnecessary "zero tolerance" and began prosecuting large swaths of immigrants at the U.S. -Mexico border, the government has yet to find an adequate solution to the problem.

Still, it appeared that the judge handing the case, Dana M. Sabraw of the US District Court in San Diego, was inclined to allow the government some leeway in complying with his order to rapidly bring separated families back together.

During a July 24 status conference on the family reunification effort, government lawyers said 1,012 of the almost 3,000 children had been reunited with their parents and another 625 would be deemed eligible by Thursday. The Department of Health and Human Services believes many of those children may have been released to another family member or sponsor.

Lee Gelernt, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union who represents the separated families, said the government is "letting themselves off the hook" by focusing on those it deems eligible and excluding parents who were deported or haven't been located.

Jose, a migrant father from Guatemala is separated from his 16-year-old daughter at the border.

"We can not force a parent to take a child with them", he said.

Attention will now shift largely to the hundreds of children whose parents may have been deported and to how much time reunified parents in the United States should have to decide if they want to seek asylum. In some cases, the parents can't be found or have serious criminal records. "And despite the court mandate only a few of those families have been reunited and more than 400 parents have been deported and permanently separated from their children".

"There's a lot of concern that those standards are being inconsistently applied, or parents are being arbitrarily denied access to their children", Sandweg pointed out.

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A Department of Homeland Security official who asked not to be named said a notice of rights is posted in English and Spanish in all detention facilities where parents are detained and the form waiving reunification must be read to parents in a language they understand. 700+ children are still in government custody, unable to be reunited with their parents any time soon.

Michelle Brané, director of migrant rights and justice for the Women's Refugee Commission, said that she had received credible information that the Office of Refugee Resettlement was scrambling to locate the deported parents - but that because the government had kept no records, the effort was proving hard.

ACLU has signaled that it will start focusing on families that remain separated outside this court order.

Their numbers amount to almost one-fifth of the parents who were potentially separated from their children prior to Trump's June 20 executive order halting the practice. She added, "No one should be forced to make decisions about their deportation or potential indefinite separation from their children under these circumstances".

The hours and days after reunification have come with their own challenges, which have largely been absorbed by aid groups tapped by the government to provide emergency shelter and food, as well as transport.

The judge, based in San Diego, addressed the eligibility controversy by remarking that the government could only reunite children under its control.

What else can we expect from Friday's hearing?

The remaining 378 have either reached the age of 18 or are living outside a detention center in the USA with their parents, relatives or another adult approved by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which as been overseeing the minors' care.