Judge Pleased With Progress But Hundreds of Migrant Children Still Separated From Parents

Families with young children protest the separation of immigrant families with a sit-in at the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington last week. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

A federal judge in San Diego said Friday that he is satisfied with the progress of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to contact migrant parents whose children were taken from them at the U.S.-Mexico border, and he urged lawyers for the government and the American Civil Liberties Union to continue working together to swiftly reunite hundreds of families who have been separated for weeks or months.

It appears the government has made significant strides… in contacting parents who have been removed or released into the country," Judge Dana Sabraw said Friday. "It's an indication that things are moving in the right direction."

As of Thursday, 559 separated children, ages five and older, were still in the custody of the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) — out of an initial 2551 youngsters — according to court filings.

Most of those children — 386 of them — had a parent who had been deported or otherwise left the country, complicating efforts to reunify the family. But Sabraw was pleased that ORR had been in contact with 299 of those parents within the last week.

At a conference Friday, in the lawsuit filed by the ACLU to force the government to end migrant family separation, lawyers for ICE  presented a proposal for a system that would involve multiple government agencies to:

  • Resolve questions about the parentage of some children and questions about whether a parent's criminal history disqualifies them from having their child returned (the ACLU has questioned whether all 87 children whose parents the government "red flagged" are ineligible for reunification)
  • Establish contact with all parents, whether in the U.S. or abroad
  • Determine whether the parent wants the child returned or prefers not to reunify so the child can seek asylum in the U.S. (the government reports that parents of 163 children don't wish to reunify, but the ACLU is skeptical of that)
  • Extricate the children from their own immigration proceedings to speed up their reunification with their parents
  • Transport children to their countries of origin to be returned to their parents

The ACLU meanwhile, has created a steering committee, on the judge's orders, including lawyers and advocates for immigrant women and children, to assist in locating deported parents and reuniting them with their children.

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Sabraw called the proposals "very impressive" and said: “All of that appears well-thought-out and essential to the successful reunification of each parent and child.”

He held off on formally approving the government's plan until Monday, to allow the plaintiff's lawyers to review it in more detail.

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