17:07, July 26 293 0 abajournal.com

2018-07-26 17:07:07
Government expects to reunite many but not all immigrant  families by deadline

At the arrival of the July 26 deadline for reuniting immigrant families forcibly separated by the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy, the federal government says it’s on track to reunite about 1,600 parents with their children—all of those it believes are eligible, but fewer than remain without their children.

The Associated Press reports that the government has separated 2,551 children 5 and older, who are covered by the July 26 deadline, from their parents. Of those families, the government believes 1,634 parents of about 2,500 parents are eligible for reunification, according to Reuters. The government says the remainder have already been deported, have waived reunification or have a background that concerns the government, such as a criminal conviction.

Younger children were subject to an earlier July 10 deadline; the government met the deadline for roughly half.

As of Tuesday, officials said they had already reunited 1,012 parents with their children, the Associated Press reported. At a hearing Tuesday in San Diego federal court, the federal government declared success, with Justice Department lawyer Scott Stewart telling Judge Dana Sabraw that they had many reasons to be proud.

But American Civil Liberties Union attorney Lee Gelernt, the lead lawyer for the class of plaintiffs suing over the family separation policy, told the Associated Press that by narrowing the class of parents it deems eligible, the federal government is lowering the bar for itself.

“I think the critical point to remember is that they are only reunifying by the deadline those families who they are claiming unilaterally are eligible for reunification by the deadline,” he said.

The ACLU has other problems with the process. In court papers filed Wednesday, the ACLU argues that the federal government intends to deport families immediately upon reunification, “with no meaningful opportunity to receive legal advice and make a considered family decision about whether their children should remain in the United States without them.”

That filing also says parents are being pressured to sign forms waiving their right to reunification, and sometimes misled about those forms’ content. Some of those parents are illiterate or were given forms in languages they don’t understand, the ACLU alleges.

The government will give the court an updated reunification count late Thursday, and the court will hold a status conference Friday.

The underlying lawsuit was filed in February, but public outrage about the family separations intensified in June. That caused President Donald Trump to walk back his administration’s policy, a rare event. Sabraw, the judge, on June 26 ordered a stop to separations that were not in children’s best interests, and ordered reunification in 30 days. That’s the deadline that arrived Thursday. He later ordered a stop to deportations of reunited families.

Protests of the policy continue; Reuters noted that one was held Thursday outside the McAllen, Texas federal court and another in Washington, D.C. The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General has acceded to Congressional requests for an investigation into the family separations policy, the AP says. Non-governmental organizations and volunteers have stepped in to shelter, feed and reunite families as needed.

ABA President Hilarie Bass has repeatedly denounced the family separation policy, and went to Texas in June to meet with immigrants and the lawyers working with them. This month, she called on America’s lawyers to volunteer, donate and advocate to help the families.