ACLU Wants Government to Account for All Migrant Children Separated From Families

By Shani Saxon Feb 22, 2019

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) asked a federal judge on Thursday (February 21) to order the government to provide an accurate accounting of all migrant children separated from their families at the southern border, The Washington Post reports. 

As Colorlines previously reported, the United States Department of Health and Human Serivces’ (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) released a watchdog report on January 17 indicating that thousands more children were separated from their parents at the border than what was previously understood. More troubling: authorities are reportedly not sure what happened to many of the children. 

The OIG originally put the number of family separations executed under Trump administration’s "zero tolerance policy" at just under 3,000 last spring, but the new report says that "thousands of children may have been separated during an influx that began in 2017, before the accounting required by the court."

The ACLU asked Judge Dana Sabraw of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California to "include the parents of those children in the same group as those affected by zero tolerance, whose reunification he ordered last summer," according to NBC News. The judge agreed that it would be "arbitrary" to fail to include the children who were separated from their families in 2017. However, he says he’s still "considering" the ACLU’s motion. 

Scott Stewart, a lawyer from the Department of Justice, argued it would be a huge challenge for the government to track the families separated "as far back as July 2017," insisting it would, "dramatically changes the complexity of this case from the government’s perspective." The judge, however, wasn’t swayed by Stewart’s reservations. "It’s important to recognize we are talking about human beings," Sabraw responded. "Every person needs to be accounted for." 

According to The Post, government officials asked the judge to deny the ACLU’s request, saying, "The children separated before his order already have been released from federal custody to a legal sponsor." They also said the ACLU should not be allowed to "move the goal posts at this late date." The ACLU argued some of those sponsors are not close relatives of the children, and that the government is responsible for making sure the minors are reunited with their parents. 

Lawyer Lee Gelernt from the ACLU said his organization will create a team to find the parents of separated children. "We cannot go back into these communities and tell them we are not going to make the effort," said Gelernt. "I suspect there are parents who want to get their children back and have not been able to."