Judge Denies Extension for Reuniting Immigrant Families

By Alfonso Serrano Jul 11, 2018

A federal judge on Tuesday (July 10) ordered the Trump administration to speed up its efforts to meet deadlines to reunite immigrant children separated from their parents—dates officials from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said they will have trouble meeting.

DHS officials already failed to meet the July 10 deadline to reunite 102 children under the age of 5 with their parents. Only 38 children have been reunited, said DHS officials, who pointed to logistical issues for the delays. 

In addition to the July 10 deadline for children under 5, United States District Judge Dana Sabraw had previously ordered the Trump administration to reunite older children by July 26. On Tuesday, Sabraw ordered the government to quicken its reunification efforts and meet that deadline. 

"I intend to stand on the deadline," Sabraw said at a San Diego hearing in a case filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Bloomberg reported. “The government, because of the way the families were separated, has an obligation to reunite and to do it safely and efficiently, that’s paramount."

In late June, Sabraw granted the ACLU a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit the civil rights group filed challenging family separations. At the time, Sabraw gave the Trump administration two weeks to reunite children under age 5 and one month to reunite older children, roughly 3,000 children in all.

Sabraw, in his June ruling, agreed with the ACLU that the Trump administration was unprepared to handle the surge of separated children resulting from the administration’s "zero tolerance" immigration policy, which in May began to criminally prosecute adults crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. He gave the government a Thursday (July 12) deadline to provide updates on the reunification process.

"Today, the court could not have been clearer: Trump’s business as usual approach to reuniting families will not be accepted," the ACLU said on Twitter.

Some of the government’s "logistical" steps that have slowed reunification include DNA testing. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which is responsible for unaccompanied minors, has conducted DNA tests in many cases. 

On Tuesday, department officials told Sabraw that at least 26 children were barred from reunification because DNA results revealed criminal backgrounds or no biological relation to the child. Sabraw told HHS officials to speed up the process, adding that DNA testing isn’t required when documents like birth certificates can prove family ties.

Sabraw’s ruling is the second legal blow for the Trump administration this week. On Monday, a federal judge rejected its request to alter a 1997 agreement and indefinitely detain immigrant families. That settlement, known as the Flores Agreement, stipulates that children cannot be held in immigration detention for more than 20 days.

U.S. District Court Judge Dolly Gee dismissed the Trump administration’s argument that it had no other appropriate method to detain families as "tortured."

"It is apparent that defendants’ application is a cynical attempt, on an ex parte basis, to shift responsibility to the judiciary for over 20 years of Congressional inaction and ill-considered executive action that have led to the current stalemate," Gee wrote.