WASHINGTON — The Trump administration has until 5 p.m. Saturday to turn over to the court a list of all 101 migrant children under the age of 5 who have been separated from their parents, as a Tuesday deadline looms for reunification of these families.
Parties were back in court Friday for the first of three deadlines set late last month by Judge Dana Sabraw in the U.S. District Court for Southern California — he ruled then that all migrant parents must have access to speak with their separated children by phone within 10 days.
Children under the age of 5 must be reunited with their parents within 14 days, and the administration has 30 days to reunite children forcibly separated after arriving at the southern border with their parents.
Sabraw also blocked the administration from deporting adults without their children unless the parent “affirmatively, knowingly, and voluntarily declines to be reunited with the child” prior to being expelled from the country.
The ACLU sought a nationwide preliminary injunction to immediately reunite families, and the judge ruled that they “demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits, irreparable harm, and that the balance of equities and the public interest weigh in their favor, thus warranting issuance of a preliminary injunction.”
He wrote in the ruling that the family separations were “a chaotic circumstance of the Government’s own making” and “belie measured and ordered governance, which is central to the concept of due process enshrined in our Constitution.”
The judge noted that “the government readily keeps track of personal property of detainees in criminal and immigration proceedings… yet the government has no system in place to keep track of, provide effective communication with, and promptly produce alien children.”
Parties met Friday for a scheduled status conference. In a Thursday filing, the administration said it was trying to meet the deadlines but “in some instances it will not be able to complete the additional processes within the timelines the Court prescribed, particularly with regard to class members who are already not in Government custody, (e.g., because they have previously been paroled or released).” The court left the deadlines in place.
“The judge made it very clear he wasn’t going to allow the Trump administration to drag its feet on reunifying these children with their parents,” said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “We oppose the administration’s efforts to further prolong the suffering of these families.”
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Thursday that “under 3,000” children had been separated from their parents, but he didn’t know the precise number. He said DNA testing is being used to match children and parents.
A Honduran father seeking asylum killed himself last month in detention the day after he was separated from his 3-year-old son.
Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have filed a lawsuit against the administration over the child separations; among the claims in court documents, Olivia Caceras said her 14-month-old son was returned to her after an 85-day separation “full of dirt and lice — it seems like they had not bathed him.”
Before leaving for the July Fourth recess, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced legislation to open child detention facilities to congressional inspections and media access.
“To paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Brandeis, sunshine is the best disinfectant,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) said. “After members of Congress have been denied entry at various facilities housing children separated from their parents at the border, I joined my colleague Debbie [Wassserman-Schultz] in introducing this bill which will ensure that the people’s representatives and the press are able to visit these facilities, speak to caregivers, and ensure the U.S. is taking every step to ensure the safety and security of the innocent children. Members of Congress should never be denied access when exercising their constitutional oversight role.”