Federal judges delivered some heavy blows to the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy this week, including a one-week pause on family deportations and mandatory counseling for children traumatized when they were taken from their families without having the opportunity to say goodbye.
Officials at the Department of Health and Human Services and Immigration and Customs Enforcement are working to meet a looming, court-ordered July 26 deadline to reunify more than 2,500 kids aged 5 and older. Here’s what you need to know:
Thousands of families are still separated
After three months of the government systematically separating families at the border and detaining them apart, on June 26, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego ordered the Trump administration to reverse course and reunite all families separated under its “zero tolerance” immigration policy by July 26.
Nine days before that deadline, 2,551 kids remain in the custody of HHS and are waiting to be reunited with their parents, an HHS official said Monday. As part of the reunification process, HHS must confirm that the parents' identity and make sure they have no criminal history in order to clear them for release. So far, HHS has cleared 1,317 parents, but the agency has not yet been able to identify 71 parents.
HHS did not respond to requests for comment from VICE News about why they haven’t been able to locate the 71 parents.
Earlier this month, the government missed the court-ordered July 10 deadline to reunite all separated kids under 5. Just over half of the 103 “tender aged” kids in HHS custody were turned over to their parents by July 12. The rest, or 46, remain in HHS facilities for a myriad of reasons including their parents criminal histories or doubts about their relationship to the parent.
U.S. District Judge Victor Bolden in Connecticut ruled on Friday that the government must come up with a long term plan to treat two kids for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who were separated from their parents for two months as part of the Trump administration’s policy. Both children, a 9-year-old boy from Honduras and a 14-year-old girl from El Salvador, were held at an HHS facility in Connecticut separated from their father and mother, respectively, who were detained in Texas.
The 9-year-old boy said immigration officials took his father away while he was sleeping and did not tell him where he was. The 14-year-old girl said officials sent her to shower, and when she returned her mother was gone. Both children were allowed to speak to their parents only once, according to their lawyers. Doctors who examined the children found that both kids are suffering from PTSD.
Both children were reunited with their parents Monday under an expedited reunification plan, and they will all be going to court Wednesday to discuss possible treatments. The legal team for the children from Yale Law School plans to argue that all separated children be treated for trauma suffered because of government separation from their parents.
“The government has deliberately inflicted this pain and suffering on these families,” said Aseem Mehta, a law student involved in the case. “Part of the reason of why our clients were released is because the order we received takes seriously the trauma the government has inflicted on these children. It says that reunification and release, that’s no enough.”
The Justice Department declined a request for comment on the lawsuit from VICE News.
No more deportations, for now
At the same time, on Monday Judge Sabraw in San Diego blocked the Trump administration from deporting any parent who has been separated from their child for the next seven days. The halt on deportations came because the ACLU raised concerns that parents would be forced to make decisions about whether to be deported alone or with their children without discussing their options with their children or a lawyer.
At a hearing on Monday, Judge Sabraw criticized the government for taking too long to screen parents.
“It is failing in this context, in this case,” he said.
Twelve parents of kids in the under 5 group were deported without their kids.
The government plans to begin to reunify 200 kids per day aged 5-17 by transporting them to eight designated ICE facilities once they are cleared for release.
By July 19, ICE and HHS have to finish vetting all of the parents in ICE custody to make sure they are in fact parents. On July 20, the government will update the court about its progress.
Cover image: Yeni Maricela Gonzalez Garcia (center) stands with her children 6 year-old Deyuin (left), 9 year-old Jamelin (right) and 11 year-old Lester (back) as she and her lawyer speak with the news media after she was reunited with her children at the East Harlem Cayuga Centers on July 13, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)