Judge does not punish Trump administration over family separations

A federal judge did not rule Friday on whether to punish the Trump administration for missing a court-ordered deadline to reunite dozens of young children separated from their parents, focusing instead on pushing the government to ensure the next round of reunifications happens properly and on time.

U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw had ordered the administration to reunite all children under age 5 by Tuesday. The government didn’t reunite the 57 children in that group until Thursday morning, prompting ACLU lawyers to request that the government be forced to pay for mental health counseling for the children as punishment.

Sabraw didn’t address that request on Friday, offering only praise for the government’s work thus far.

“There is substantial compliance,” he said. “There is good faith being demonstrated. There is a collaborative process that’s well underway.”

The judge did make clear, however, that changes have to be made to make sure that all other minors — nearly 3,000 of them — are reunited with their parents by the final deadline of July 26. He asked the government to produce detailed lists of all minors and parents, with information about their current locations, and hand them over to the ACLU.

He also ordered the government to notify the ACLU of all future reunifications at least 12 hours before they occur. ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt said they had not received any pre-notification of reunifications for the first group of children, which he said is necessary so that immigration advocacy groups and faith-based organizations can be on hand to provide whatever support the families need.

That lack of notification led to one case where a mother and her children, including a 6-month-old, were left stranded at a bus stop by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. According to Gelernt, the mother called an attorney and an immigration advocacy group for help, and finally secured a bus ticket around midnight on Tuesday.

Department of Justice attorney Sarah Fabian fought back against the demand, arguing that most reunifications will start taking place at a small number of processing centers. She said the humanitarian groups can camp out at those locations and be ready to assist anybody who’s released, and that requiring advance notification of each and every release would represent “a big ask” of the government.

Gelernt bristled at the idea that an agency as large as the Department of Justice couldn’t handle that task. “I do not think this is situation where it’s a small law firm that has a finite number of associates,” he said.

Sabraw agreed, and ordered the government to give at least 12 hours notice before each reunification.

“So much of this is really common sense and common courtesy,” he said. “Someone is making determinations as to who’s getting reunified, what time and where. That information can be communicated. There shouldn’t be anything mysterious about it. It should be transparent and easy to do.”

The ACLU also worried that the government is preparing a massive series of deportations of parents over the weekend almost immediately after they’re reunited with their children.

The Department of Homeland Security is offering parents who are facing final orders of removal two options: They can be deported alone and leave their child in the U.S., or the parent can stay in detention while their child is transferred into the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services. Gelernt said parents needed more time to speak with pro bono attorneys so they can make the best decision for themselves and their children.

“We would hope no removals happen before your honor has a chance to look at the situation,” Gelernt said.

Fabian said she was not aware of any plans for mass deportations, and argued that the judge could not halt all deportations.

“I’m not sure this court has the authority to do that,” she said.

Sabraw simply urged attorneys on both sides to notify him over the weekend if those deportations commence so he can hold an emergency hearing.

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