Judge: Government needs better plan for finding parents separated from kids

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SAN DIEGO — A federal judge Friday ordered the government to come up with a plan to find parents who have been deported or released back into the United States after being separated from their children at the border as part of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy on illegal immigration.

U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw said it was “unacceptable” that the government has located only 12 or 13 parents out of close to 500 who have been removed from the United States or released into the mainland.

In a conference call with attorneys from the Department of Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union, Sabraw said it was “disappointing” that there wasn’t a plan in place to find the parents who had been separated from their children.

“The reality is that for every parent that is not located, there will be a permanently orphaned child and that is 100 percent the responsibility of the administration,” the judge said.

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 Trump administration missed both deadlines.

“The judge is refusing to let the government off the hook for the mess it made,” said Lee Gelernt, national attorney for the ACLU.

Sabraw ordered the government to put one person in charge of the effort to find parents who were separated from their children.

“This is going to be a significant undertaking, and it’s clear that there has to be one person in charge,” the judge said.

Sabraw told the ACLU to identify a steering committee to help in the process and to use its “considerable resources” to find parents in their home countries.

Gelernt said 96 percent of the parents removed from the United States are in Guatemala and Honduras, but the government has provided “sketchy” addresses for some, making it difficult to find them.

“Every day the government has sat on this information has been another day of suffering for these families,” Gelernt said.

Another status conference is set for next Friday.

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