With a deadline to reunite separated migrant families only days away, the Trump administration admitted in a court filing Monday that 463 parents are no longer in the U.S. and have possibly been deported, leaving them ineligible for reunification with their children. That deadline will almost certainly be missed.
The government insists that all parents who’ve been deported were given the option of taking their children with them, but some immigration advocates are questioning whether the parents knew what they were agreeing to.
In its own filing Monday, the ACLU asked U.S. District judge Dana Sabraw to force the government to produce a list of parents who agreed to be deported without their children. “These parents urgently need consultations with lawyers, so that they do not mistakenly strand their children in the United States,” the filing said.
The ACLU’s skepticism follows reports that ICE officials have pressured migrant parents into signing voluntary deportation forms by telling them that it’s the only way they’ll ever see their kids again. On the contrary, it may prevent them from ever reuniting, former acting director of ICE John Sandweg said last month. “I think we’re going to see hundreds of cases where the children are permanently separated from their parents, becoming wards of the United States,” he said.
It’s clear, though, that some parents did in fact agree to leave the country without their kids. José Ottoniel is one such parent. Deported back to Guatemala in June, he has left his 10-year-old son in a shelter in Texas. “Right now, we think it’s best for him to have this opportunity in the United States, to get out of this place,” Ottoniel told the Washington Post.
In the Monday court filing, the government said that a total of 879 migrant parents have so far been reunited with their children. Another 538 parents have been approved for reunification, but are waiting for transportation. Meanwhile, there are more than 450 who remain ineligible because of criminal records, communicable diseases, and the need for “further evaluation.”
In a statement, the ACLU took issue with the government’s authority to determine that parents were ineligible to be reunited with their kids. “We’ve asked the court to order the government to provide details about the nature of the charge, conviction, or warrant for each parent whom the government excluded, so that we can verify that not reunifying the child is truly in their best interest,” the statement said.