ACLU Calls Migrant Children Reunification Efforts a ‘Mess,' Gov. Says All Eligible Children Will be Reunited by Deadline

The Trump administration and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have failed to agree on how much time parents should have to decide whether to seek asylum after they are reunited with their children who were separated at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Trump administration said in a court filing Monday that there have been 1,187 children reunified with their parents or "other appropriate discharges," which include guardians and sponsors. In court, San Diego Judge Dana Sabraw said that is a "remarkable achievement."

But the government also added that some 463 parents may not be in the United States, saying those findings are based on case notes and are under review. Sabraw says the reality of this case is "deeply troubling." 

"There are still many, many people who were deported," ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt, said outside the courthouse Tuesday. "We don't know where those individuals are. The government's not going to reunite them by the deadline. There are other individuals for whom they have not identified who the parent is. They are not going to be reunified." 

In a San Diego court filing Tuesday, the Justice Department said that the administration proposed a four-day waiting period – three days shorter than what the ACLU wants.

The government says the longer waiting period would increase costs and occupy limited beds. The ACLU argues parents need the time to discuss whether to seek asylum with their children, lawyers and advocates.

Gelernt, who was at a status conference in San Diego two days before the Thursday deadline, said the situation on the ground is a "mess." The government disputes that assertion, saying on Tuesday that all children eligible for reunification will be reunited before the Thursday deadline.

Of the 2,551 children aged five to 17 who were separated at the border, many because of the administration’s zero-tolerance policy, the government says 1,637 children are eligible for reunification and as many as 463 parents may have already been deported or left the country voluntarily.

ACLU attorneys say many of these parents signed forms to be deported without their children, without knowing their full legal rights.

At the ACLU's request, Sabraw ordered a temporary hold on deportations of reunified families until the ACLU could be sure it had reached the parents to provide them legal counsel.

Children not reunified with parents will be sent to live with a family member or sponsor while their asylum case plays out.

There will be another status conference Friday – the day after the deadline.

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