Photo via U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services
It’s been more than two months since the Trump administration ignited an international humanitarian uproar over the detention of thousands of migrant children accused of crossing the U.S. border without proper paperwork.
After caging more than 2,500 children in government facilities far away from their parents and guardians under a “zero tolerance” immigration policy announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in May, the Trump administration caved to global pressure and ended the family separation process at the end of June. In the weeks since, however, the White House, Homeland Security, and Department of Health and Human Services have all struggled to bring those families back together. At the end of last week, 572 children remained in U.S. custody.
According to concurrent reports from the Washington Post and NBC News, a federal judge signed a court order on Friday demanding the reunification of those children with their parents, requiring that the federal government do everything in its power to achieve that goal.
"Many of these parents were removed from the country without their child," said U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw. "All of this is the result of the government's separation and then inability and failure to track and reunite. And the reality is that for every parent who is not located there will be a permanently orphaned child. And that is 100 percent the responsibility of the administration."
The ruling came as part of a court case originally filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to reunify families separated by the Trump administration’s policy. In a filing on the day before Judge Sabraw’s ruling, government lawyers claimed that only 13 parents of remaining detainees had been located — all of whom were found by ACLU investigators. After government officials suggested that the ACLU take responsibility for finding the rest of the remaining “missing” parents, Judge Sabraw called the Trump administration's stance “unacceptable,” and scolded the government for trying to pass the buck onto an outside organization.
Since ending the controversial separation policy, the Trump administration has continually deported formerly detained adults, while presenting shaky statistics about plans for family reunification. A week ago, government documents claimed 120 parents had waived their right to see their children again, but that number was reduced to 34 during the latest filing.
ACLU officials said that they would continue to use all available resources to reunite families separated at the southern border, but that the group would not accept full for responsibility for solving a problem that they say rests squarely on the shoulders of the Trump administration.
“We will do whatever they can to help locate the deported parents, but emphasize that the government must bear the ultimate burden of finding the parents,” read ACLU court filings from last Thursday. “Not only was it the government’s unconstitutional separation practice that led to this crisis, but the United States government has far more resources.”
According to the most recent government court filings, the parents of more than 400 youth have already been deported out of the country without their children.