The Trump administration agreed to reunite all the parents it deported without their children — it just wants non-profits and other organizations to do the leg work.
More than 400 deported parents remain separated from their children, despite a court order to reunite all separated families by July 26. In a Thursday court filing, the Justice Department said that the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents more than 2,500 parents separated from their kids, should be responsible for locating them determining if they want to reunite with their kids, and relaying that information to the government.
“Plaintiffs’ counsel should use their considerable resources and their network of law firms, NGOs, volunteers, and others, together with the information that Defendants have provided (or will soon provide), to establish contact with possible class members in foreign countries,” the Justice Department wrote in its filing.
For weeks, U.S. organizations that work in Central America have been coordinating efforts to try to find parents the government deported without their children. But the government has not provided any usable information about the whereabouts of around 120 of the deported parents, and only 12 have been located so far, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
“The government has created a mess, and it’s preposterous for them to shift the burden onto civil society,” said Cathleen Caron, director of Justice In Motion, a global network of immigration advocates and lawyers.
So far, Justice in Motion has located six deported parents, but the organization is working with a smaller budget than the government, Caron said. Lawyers and advocates are gathering details about how the families were separated and how they want to proceed. When they’re found, parents have three options: They can either have the child sent back to the country they fled, leave the child to pursue asylum alone in the U.S., or try to return to the U.S. on humanitarian parole and pursue their asylum claim together again.
Immigration attorneys have said parents in immigration detention were coerced into agreeing to be deported alone without understanding what they were doing. Officials gave parents forms to sign in English and Spanish on which they had to choose whether to be reunited and deported together or deported alone. But many parents may not have understand the forms because they spoke indigenous dialects or were illiterate. Some were also given just a few minutes to contemplate the decision, according to attorneys.
The majority of the deported parents, around 300, are from Guatemala, where they face violence from organized criminal groups who act with impunity, according to Caron said.
“People are leaving these countries because they are almost failed states,” she said. “Without addressing that, the migrants are still going to come no matter how vicious the response is at the border.”
U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego, who’s overseeing the reunification case, will decide how the government and ACLU should move forward at a hearing on Friday afternoon.
Cover image: Paulina Gutierrez Alonzo, a 26-year-old Quiche indigenous woman, shows a photo of her 7-year-old daughter Antonia Yolanda Gomez Gutierrez on her cell phone during an interview at her grandfather's house in Joyabaj, Guatemala, Thursday, July 26, 2018. Gutierrez Alonzo was deported from United States in June and separated from her daughter who is currently at an immigration center in Arizona, despite the Thursday deadline for reuniting children with their families who were caught entering the country without authorization. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)