Judge ‘wholeheartedly’ approves family reunification plan

SAN DIEGO -- A federal judge Friday "wholeheartedly" approved a plan to reunify families separated at the border as part of the Trump administration's "zero-tolerance" policy on illegal immigration.

U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw, overseeing a class-action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and other related cases, said he expects the parties to move "full speed ahead" with the effort to reunite parents with their children so the case can be wrapped up.

In June, the ACLU won a nationwide injunction requiring reunification of children under age 5 by July 10 and all children by July 26.

"The overreaching goal is reunification," the judge said. "The government's plan is the appropriate plan."

The government's plan to reunify parents who have been removed from the United States or released into the mainland is headed up by key members of the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of State and Department of Health and Human Services.

ACLU national attorney Lee Gelernt said the government's reunification plan does not address or resolve the right of removed parents to be reunited with their children in the United States.

Government attorneys noted that nothing in a preliminary injunction issued by Sabraw requires it to return any removed class members to the United States for the purpose of reunification.

The judge urged the parties to meet and confer to resolve the issue.

Gelernt said he expects that many parents who have been separated from their children for many months will seek rapid reunification in their country of origin, mostly in Central America.

But in some cases, removed parents may not have availed themselves of their right to seek asylum because they were misled or coerced into believing that asserting their asylum claim would delay or preclude reunification, Gelernt said.

The judge on Thursday extended a freeze on deporting separated families, giving children a chance to seek their own asylum.

Sabraw said he expects the parties to submit a more detailed report next week on the number of families being reunified.