As a lawsuit over reunification of immigrant families separated at the border plays out in federal court, the Trump administration on Monday gave us a first glimpse at which parents will be reunited this week with their very young children — and which ones may never be.
The good news first: Out of about 102 separated children under age 5 in federal custody, at least 54 will be reunified with their parents Tuesday, said Department of Justice attorney Sarah Fabian during Monday’s hearing in San Diego. Another five should be reunified quickly, pending background checks.
Fabian’s statements were part of an ongoing ACLU lawsuit over the Trump administration’s family separation policy. The judge presiding over the suit ordered the feds in June to reunite parents with kids younger than 5 by Tuesday. The judge’s deadline to reunite the remaining older kids — more than 2,000 of them — is July 26, and the civil rights group and federal attorneys are still haggling over the details. The Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Health and Human Services and Attorney General Jeff Sessions are among the litany of federal agencies and officials named in the suit.
Monday’s good news was tempered by a troubling portrait of the parents who are being excluded from the court-mandated reunification.
Fabian said that nine immigrant parents of children under 5 have been deported to their countries of origin without their children. The government is in contact with only four of them. ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt added during Monday’s hearing that his organization believes 12 such parents have actually been deported. It’s unclear when those families will be reunited.
Beyond the parents deported without their infants or toddlers, other immigrant parents are being denied reunification based on criminal history, pending federal or state criminal charges or because the government already arranged for their kids to be placed with other adult caretakers.
At least three parents are being denied reunification because of criminal histories, said Fabian. The DOJ declined to specify which crimes the parents had been convicted of, but a previous court filing suggests the crimes could be something as minor as “drug offenses” in home countries.
Another eight parents are being held to face unspecified federal criminal charges, and four kids are already in the pipeline to be settled with nonparents in the United States, though Fabian promised the feds would consult with parents before that process is completed.
Fabian said that the 54 children being reunified Tuesday will be brought to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities, where their parents will be waiting — and then they’ll be released, perhaps with ankle monitors for the parents. They won’t be held in family detention.
In case you’re wondering: Yes, the government could have done that with these families from the very beginning.