The Trump administration has failed to put forward a plan for reunifying children with parents who were deported without them, a federal judge said Friday, warning that the government might be creating "permanently orphaned" children in the process.
The federal judge who ordered the reunification of families separated at the southern U.S. border said on Friday that it was the government's responsibility to locate parents deported without their children. Many of these parents were removed from the country without their child.
The task the government is attempting to assign the ACLU is made all the more hard because of the Trump administration's disregard for record-keeping while separating more than 2,500 children from their parents and then sending parents back to various Central American countries.
The court filings showed that, of 2,551 children ages 5 to 17 who were separated, 1,979 have been released from shelters overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services' refugee office - almost 160 more than a week earlier.
As roughly two-thirds of the families separated by the administration have been reunited, the focus in an ongoing court case that ordered reunifications has turned to the more hard cases - especially the hundreds of parents who were deported to their home countries alone.
In an attempt to increase the number of parents and children that are reunited, the judge on Friday ordered the government to appoint a person to take charge of its efforts.
The ACLU filed a lengthy collection of sworn statements from attorneys who say some parents were asked to sign documents they didn't understand, felt coerced to sign or believed they were agreeing to something to get their children back.
"Plaintiffs' counsel should use their considerable resources and their network of law firms, [non-government organizations], volunteers, and others", the government lawyers wrote, offering to give the ACLU additional information that might help the organization locate the parents. "And that is 100 percent the responsibility of the administration".
In the case, brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, Judge Dana Sabraw ordered the government to reunify the families by July 26, but that deadline was not fully met.
Immigrant families in the spotlight
"Not only was it the government's unconstitutional separation practice that led to this crisis, but the United States government has far more resources than any group" of non-governmental organizations or lawyers trying to help, the ACLU's Lee Gelernt wrote in a letter to Sabraw on Thursday.
Sabraw, a George W. Bush appointee who has a mild and straightforward manner on the bench, has not threatened the government with any sanctions. Hundreds remain apart, however, mainly because their parents are outside the country.
Sabraw said that it was "just unacceptable" that of those parents, only 12 or 13 had been located.
The ACLU said that it was the government's responsibility, not its own.
Earlier last week, President Trump tweeted praise for Sabraw without naming him.
Families with young children protest the separation of immigrant families with a sit-in at the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington last week.
The administration said Thursday that 410 children who remain in custody have parents who are no longer in the United States, but that is roughly 100 fewer than the overall total of deported parents.
An estimated 120 records provided by the government to the ACLU lack addresses for the deported parents, according to Politico. The ACLU has asked that families have at least a week to decide if they want to seek asylum after they are reunited with their children, a step that the administration opposes.
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