Government hasn’t answered key questions on family separations
It’s been more than a week since a federal judge in California ordered the Trump administration to reunite the families it separated at the border.
Officials say they’re working to comply and meet deadlines the court set. But they’ve been tight-lipped about many details.
Here are some of the key unanswered questions, and the latest we’ve learned as they have come up in court:
Will officials meet the deadlines? And what happens if they don’t?
U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw laid out a series of deadlines in a ruling last week. By Friday, officials must make sure every separated parent has a way to contact their child. By July 10, children younger than 5 must be reunited with their parents. And by July 26, all children should be reunited with their parents.
In a court filing this week, the government outlined a series of steps it’s taking to comply with the court order: including DNA testing, increased staffing and expediting existing processes.
A government attorney said in court Friday that she believed officials had met the first deadline. But she said she’s not sure whether they can meet the next one that’s looming. Authorities might need more time to reunite children younger than 5 with dozens of parents who are no longer in ICE custody, Justice Department attorney Sarah Fabian said.
Lawyers from the ACLU have been adamant that the court gave officials plenty of time — and that there’s no reason to give the government extra time to clean up a mess it made.
On a call with reporters Thursday, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar called the deadlines “extreme” but said officials would comply.
How many reunions have occurred?
The only firm statistics we’ve received from officials about reunions came from the Department of Homeland Security, which said before the judge’s ruling that 522 children who were separated from their families under the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy had been reunited with their parents.
But federal agencies have repeatedly declined to respond to questions since the court ruling about how many families have been reunited.
Exactly how many kids from separated families are in custody?
The last time officials released an official tally on this was June 26. Thursday, Azar said the number was “under 3,000” but added that reviews were ongoing and he could not provide more precise figure. This is an important number because — since officials have declined to specify the total number of families that have been reunited — looking at the number of children in custody is one of the few ways for the public to have any sense of whether reunions are happening, and how quickly.
What’s the holdup in getting a precise tally?
According to Azar, it’s because the court order required officials to go back further in time and comb through thousands of cases to find any separated children — not just to focus on the administration’s new “zero tolerance” policy, which officials announced in May.
Of the fewer than 3,000 children, Azar said about 100 were younger than 5.
Will the government reunite kids with parents who have already been deported?
In a court filing Friday, the government asked the court for clarity about whether officials actually have to do this, noting that the judge’s ruling did not specify whether deported parents should be included. If that is required, the filing said, officials would need more time “given the complexities involved in locating individuals who have been removed, determining whether they wish to be reunified with their child, and facilitating such a reunification outside of the United States.”
Sabraw said in court that deported parents were included in his order.
It’s unclear what steps the government will take to do this.
How many parents have been deported without their kids?
Officials haven’t disclosed how many parents from separated families were deported. But in court on Friday, Fabian revealed details about one subset: 19 parents of children younger than 5 were deported, she said.
Asked Thursday about what would happen in such cases, Azar said, “If any parent has been deported … without their child, that likely would be a scenario where the parent had actually asked that the child remain.”
Immigration authorities are offering parents separated from their children at the border the option to be deported with or without their children, according to a government document obtained by CNN this week.
Parents have also been offered the option to sign voluntary departure orders to speed up their cases even if they still have other legal options — and told they’ll be reunited with their children before they are deported if they do.
Immigrant advocacy groups say they’re concerned that some parents may have been coerced or may have signed documents they didn’t understand.