When will separated families be reunited?
At today's status hearing to review a judge's order calling on the Trump administration to reunite families within a series of deadlines, the American Civil Liberties Union brought up the use of DNA testing.
DNA tests are being used in an attempt to reunite migrant families separated at the US border, said a federal official with knowledge of the reunifications.
Lee Gelernt, an attorney for the ACLU, said any DNA used by the US government must be removed from the database:
“The government, I gather, is saying we’re going to DNA every single person and it’s gonna delay things. We would say that DNA is a last resort. … It shouldn’t be done in every case, but if it is being done in every case, we would ask that it be used only for reunification and then expunged because I don’t know that we want to be creating a database of all these people.”
Under Judge Dana Sabraw's order calling for family reunifications, children under the age of 5 must be reunited with their parents by Tuesday.
At a status hearing, Sabraw asked the Justice Department how many of the approximately 100 children of this age the government believes could be reunified by that deadline.
Sarah Fabian, an attorney for the Justice Department, said that of that group, about half of them have parents in US Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody. For that group, the reunification can occur by the deadline.
About 20% of the kids, she said, have parents that were released from ICE custody.
“For those folks, in some cases, for example, if we’re not aware of where the parent is, I can’t commit to saying that reunification will occur before the deadline. … We’re still determining what the situation is there and whether those are situations where reunifications may not be able to occur within the timeframe.”
A US District judge last month ordered the Trump administration to reunite the families it separated at the border — and said the government must make sure every separated parent has a way to contact their child by today.
There's a status hearing happening right now for that case. At the hearing, Sarah Fabian, an attorney for the Justice Department, said the “government has devoted significant resources” to complying with the court’s order.
Regarding whether they’ve met today’s deadline about communication, she said:
“We did review to ensure the under 5 group communication has been facilitated and it’s our belief that it also has been facilitated for the remainder of the class.”
The hearing is ongoing.
A 39-year-old Guatemalan woman named Lesvia was separated from her son on May 19.
She was released from the T. Don Hutto facility Thursday night in Taylor, Texas, but her 10-year-old son is in the Casa El Presidente facility in Brownsville, Texas.
Taylor is about 350 miles north of Brownsville.
Non-profit organization Grassroots Leadership helped Lesvia and other women separated from their children write letters to their kids.
Here's what Lesvia wrote:
Here's the English translation:
From your mommy Lesvia To my son - Hi son I want to tell you that I miss you very much I am missing you very very much I know that they separated us but I know that God is great Soon we will reunite I know my precious that it is not easy because I had never separated myself from you I love you my little one This separation hurts me very much I ask God that he protects you that he takes care of you I hope that you are very well Although it hurts to tell you these words Although I know this was not our destiny But they have done this I don’t know why they do this to us But I love you despite living this nightmare But I am not going to give up until I have you in my arms I love you my heart Do not forget it Kisses Take Care
A US judge has ordered the Trump administration to reunite the families it separated at the border — but does that include kids with parents who have already been deported?
In their latest court filing, the government asked the court for clarity about whether officials need to reunite children with with deported parents, noting that the judge's ruling did not specify whether deported parents should be included. If that is required, the filing said, officials would need more time "given the complexities involved in locating individuals who have been removed, determining whether they wish to be reunified with their child, and facilitating such a reunification outside of the United States."
How common is this scenario? Asked about what would happen in such cases Thursday, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said, "If any parent has been deported ... without their child, that likely would be a scenario where the parent had actually asked that the child remain."
Immigration authorities are offering parents separated from their children at the border the option to be deported with or without their kids, according to a government document obtained by CNN this week.
Parents have also been offered the option to sign voluntary departure orders to speed up their cases even if they still have other legal options — and told they'll be reunited with their kids before they are deported if they do.
Immigrant advocacy groups say they're concerned that some parents may have been coerced or may have signed documents they didn't understand.
Governors from six states — New York, Washington, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Oregon — sent a letter Friday to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen “demanding answers concerning the reunification of immigrant families separated at the border,” according to a press release from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office.
The letter demands that the following six questions be answered:
- How many separated migrant children in HHS custody have already been reunified?
- Of those children who have already been reunified, how many have been placed with the parents they arrived with at the U.S. southern border?
- If any were placed with a non-parent sponsor, what policies do your agencies intend to put in place to enable long-term reunification between children and their parents?
- What steps is the federal government requiring separated parents to comply with before gaining back custody of their children?
- What safeguards are being put in place to ensure the results of any DNA testing of parents and children are not used for any purpose other than familial verification?
- How many of the separated migrant children in HHS custody have been provided with legal services and representation?
The only firm statistics we've gotten from officials about reunions came from US Customs and Border Protection, which said last month that 522 children who were separated from their family's under the administration's "zero tolerance" policy had been reunited with their parents.
Important note: That number came before a judge ordered the Trump administration to reunite the families it separated at the border.
Federal agencies have repeatedly declined to respond to questions since the court ruling about how many families have been reunited.
US District Judge Dana Sabraw last month ordered the Trump administration to reunite the families it separated at the border — and laid out a series of deadlines in his ruling.
By Friday, officials must make sure every separated parent has a way to contact their child. By July 10, children under 5 must be reunited with their parents. And by July 26, all children should be reunited with their parents.
In a court filing ahead of today's status hearing, the government outlined a series of steps it's taking to comply with the court order, including
- DNA testing
- Increased staffing
- Expediting existing processes.
It's likely more details will come out during the hearing.
Vice President Mike Pence, speaking at the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement headquarters in DC, blamed Democrats for “reckless” language calling to abolish ICE.
“Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and the Mayor of New York City have all already called for ICE’s abolition,” he told ICE officers gathered in a conference room here in DC.
“These spurious attacks by political leaders on ICE must stop,” he said to some applause in the room.
What this is about: Gillibrand called for an end to ICE last month, and Warren called on the US replace it with "something that reflects our morality." New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told WNYC's Brian Lehrer, "ICE's time has come and gone."
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