US government has until July 26 to meet reunification deadline
U.S. Justice Department attorneys said in a court filing Monday, July 23, that over 460 migrant parents separated from their children under the government’s “zero-tolerance” policy may have already been deported without their kids.
The report comes just days ahead of a deadline to reunite over 2,500 children ages five to 17 with their parents, provided the parents do not have safety concerns or criminal history that make them ineligible.
Justice Department lawyers in the status report to Southern California U.S. District Judge Dana M. Sabraw said that 879 children have been reunited with their parents, up from the 450 reported Friday, July 20. It added that 538 have been cleared to be reunited pending transportation arrangements, which means that at least half of the 2,551 would be reunited by the Thursday, July 26, deadline.
Another 917 were found to be either “not yet known to be eligible,” or ineligible for reunification.
The cases of the 463 parents no longer in the U.S. are said to be currently “under review,” adding to concerns that more parents may have been deported without their children than previously thought.
Sabraw set the 30-day reunification deadline last month and wanted to know how many of the over 2,500 parents eligible for reunions were no longer in the U.S. Last Monday, he issued an order to temporarily suspend the federal government from deporting families yet to be reunited.
The government has said that parents had willingly left the U.S. without their children, giving written consent after being informed in their native language. But immigration advocates and attorneys have argued that many parents were not fully aware of what was happening and may have been pressured into signing papers out of desperation.
The Los Angeles Times reported earlier this month of a father who was deported back to his home country without his daughter, claiming that he did not recall ever making an agreement to do so.
Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) said that the father had agreed to be sent home without her.
“We have concerns about misinformation given to these parents about their rights to fight deportation without their children,” said American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) attorney Stephen Kang, as quoted by the Washington Post.
“If this number turns out to be as large as the report suggests, this is going to be a big issue for us,” he said. “We have a lot of questions.”
The government ran into troubles earlier this month in meeting its first deadline to reunite the over 100 separated children under the age of five.
U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order last month to stop separations after receiving criticism including from those in his own party.
The court order and deadlines set by Sabraw to reunite children with their parents came as a response to a lawsuit against the Trump administration by ACLU.
Another hearing for the updates on the reunification process was slated for Tuesday evening, July 24. (Rae Ann Varona /AJPress)