In 'Remarkable' Court Filing, Government 'Washing Their Hands' of Reuniting Deported Parents With Their Children

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Representatives from faith and pro-immigration groups protest at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on July 31 about the separation of children from their parents at the border. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The Trump administration suggested in a federal court filing Thursday that the American Civil Liberties Union and other private organizations should take responsibility for reuniting more than 400 migrant children separated from parents deported under the government's zero tolerance immigration policy.

The latest status report in the San Diego-based federal case that compelled the government to reunite separated families says the parents of 410 children are outside the United States -- meaning they had been deported without their children, according to statements from a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement official last week. That number was revised down from 431 children on July 26 -- the court's deadline for all reunifications to be completed.

“[ACLU Lawyers] should use their considerable resources and their network of law firms, NGO’s, volunteers and others, together with the information that [the U.S. government] ... provided (or will soon provide), to establish contact with possible class members in foreign countries," the Thursday government filing says.

U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw ordered the government last week to work with the ACLU and come up with a plan to reunify those deported parents with their children. But Department of Justice attorneys had hinted for several days that they would not present a plan, according to the ACLU's lead attorney on the case.

“The court filing is remarkable,” ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt said. “The government is washing their hands of it, and saying we’ll try and do a little. They’re saying, ‘You all [the ACLU], find the parents.' "


In court, attorneys representing the government have argued that the parents wanted to be removed from the country without their children, a claim reiterated by immigration officials outside court.

The government wrote Thursday that the ACLU should obtain “final, unequivocal, written confirmation” that parents want to be reunited with their children.

The ACLU has submitted affidavits from over a dozen pro bono immigration attorneys saying that federal officers employed coercive tactics to pressure immigrants to agree to deportation without their children.

The government denies those allegations.

At the apex of the separation policy, as many as 3,000 children were separated from their parents.

Approximately 572 children have still not been reunified. The government officials say the parents are either ineligible for reunification or unavailable -- meaning they've been deported, waived reunification, are affected by a different lawsuit, have criminal histories or background issues that prohibit reunification or have been released into the U.S. and have not yet been contacted.

The ACLU has requested proof of criminal histories or other factors that would make a parent ineligible for reunification. The government has yet to provide it.