Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that DHS says parents have always been given the option to elect or waive reunification.
The Trump administration has identified 471 parents who were removed from the United States without their children, according to the latest court filing in an ongoing lawsuit.
At least some of those parents were deported before a June 2018 court order that required the government to better document parents’ choices to elect or waive their right to be reunified with their children beforehand. That’s not to say that parents weren’t provided the opportunity, according to the Department of Homeland Security, but rather they did not fall under the court-ordered waiver procedure.
A DHS spokesman says prior to instituting the new waiver procedure ordered last June, separated parents were routinely asked by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and their home consulates if they wished to be reunited with their children before being removed to their home countries.
“The Ms. L court filing today simply noted that the ‘possible’ universe of parents removed prior to the preliminary injunction was 471,” the spokesman said. “While the preliminary injunction formalized the opportunity to elect or waive reunification, even prior to the preliminary injunction it was the routine practice of ICE to allow parents to choose to take their children with them when being removed.”
The revelation of the 471 parents came in a filing in the class-action family separation lawsuit in San Diego. The administration has previously acknowledged that parents were removed without their children, but the latest report provides an updated count – which had been requested by the American Civil Liberties Union to serve as a baseline to better track reunifications.
Immigrant advocates and lawyers have argued that some parents were coerced into signing paperwork they didn’t understand. A months-long, court-ordered process has been underway to track down deported parents, determine whether they wanted to be reunified with their children and reunite those families who requested it.
As part of that process, the administration has provided regular reports to the court on the reunification status of children and parents who the government separated, including some parents who were deported but ultimately elected not to be reunified with their children.
The ACLU filed the case against the Trump administration last year on behalf of a Congolese woman, referred to as “Ms. L,” who was seeking asylum in the US and was separated from her 7-year-old daughter. The case was later expanded to a class-action lawsuit.
District Judge Dana Sabraw issued a preliminary injunction last June blocking most family separations at the US-Mexico border and ordering that those already separated be reunited.
Wednesday’s court filing notes that since the preliminary injunction was issued, the government has worked with a steering committee regarding the status of deported parents who have children remaining in federal care. The ACLU helped lead the committee, which reached out to all the parents who had been deported.
The filing also includes the latest numbers on reunifications.
As of Monday, 2,741 of 2,816 children have been discharged from government care, up six since the Feb. 20 status report. Four children are “proceeding towards reunification or other appropriate discharge,” according to the filing.