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After reunification deadline, some separated children and 'missing parents' remain

"This problem cannot repeat," the judge said, saying that government agencies must do better to communicate with each other.
Image: Reunited migrant family
Seven-year-old Andy, center, is reunited with his mother, Arely, right, at Baltimore-Washington International Airport on July 23, 2018 in Linthicum, Maryland.Win McNamee / Getty Images

SAN DIEGO — One day after a court-ordered deadline to reunite separated migrant children, Trump administration lawyers told a judge that around 1,440 children have been reunited with their parents — and that around 1,000 of those families face immediate deportation orders.

In all, the government either reunified around 1,820 children with their parents or put them in the care of other family members or sponsors, government lawyers told U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw of San Diego on Friday.

Sabraw, who ordered the government in June to reunify migrant children separated under the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy, said that the government "deserves great credit" for its actions to reunify those more than 1,800 separated children.

But he also said that step two in the matter is turning to 650 children who were deemed "ineligible" to be reunited by the government, particularly what he called "missing parents" who have already been deported without their children — which is believed to be 431, according to court filings.

A total of 2,551 migrant children were taken from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, many of whom were separated under the "zero tolerance" policy that called for the prosecution of all immigrants crossing the border illegally.

Sabraw did not immediately rule on a request for a 7-day stay on deportations of reunited families sought by the American Civil Liberties Union.

ACLU lawyer Lee Gelernt argued for the stay Friday by calling it "tortuous to have a parent thinking 'I gave away my child because I was confused and made a mistake,'" speaking of 120 parents who the ACLU says may have waived their right to reunification in error.

The ACLU said that the government has not given complete information about the migrants deemed ineligible for reunification, either because parents of those children either have "red flags" in their background, were released into the United States, verbally relinquished their rights to reunify, or have been deported.

Sabraw said in the next step he will consider the request for a 7-day stay on deportations for reunited families, which the ACLU sought to ensure that parents are given proper time to decide whether to be deported with their children or leave their children in the U.S. while the children pursue asylum.

He will also issue an order regarding immediate next steps for locating parents deported without their children and another 52 parents released to the interior of the United States who cannot be located.

Sabraw said agencies like the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Justice Department must do a more efficient job of reuniting children and parents in the future.

"This problem cannot repeat," Sabraw said.