July 16, 2018

Judge Temporarily Halts Deportation of Reunified Families

The judge is asking government to respond to ACLU court filing pointing to rumors of mass deportations following reunification.

Southwest Key kids Children seen on the grounds of the Southwest Key facility in Tucson, Arizona, July 7, 2018. (PHOTO: Nancy Montoya, AZPM)

SAN DIEGO — A federal judge on Monday ordered a temporary halt to any deportations of reunited families who were separated by the Trump administration after crossing the Southwest border.

The American Civil Liberties Union had asked Judge Dana Sabraw to delay deportations a week after reunification. The ACLU said in a court filing that its request is a response to "persistent and increasing rumors ... that mass deportations may be carried out imminently and immediately upon reunification."

The ACLU said parents need a week after being reunified with their children to decide whether to pursue asylum.

The decision "cannot be made until parents not only have had time to fully discuss the ramifications with their children, but also to hear from the child's advocate or counsel, who can explain to the parent the likelihood of the child ultimately prevailing in his or her own asylum case if left behind in the U.S. (as well as where the child is likely to end up living)," the ACLU says.

Sabraw said he would temporarily halt deportations until the Justice Department could file a response to the ACLU's documents. He gave the government attorneys one week, and said he'd formally rule after that. Justice attorneys opposed halting the deportations.

The request by the ACLU followed a flurry of weekend activity in the case. The judge said late Friday that he was having second thoughts about whether the government was acting in good faith. He was responding to an administration plan to reunite more than 2,500 children ages 5 and older by July 26.

The administration's reunification plan uses "truncated" procedures to verify parentage and perform background checks, excluding DNA testing and other steps it took to reunify children under 5. The administration said the abbreviated vetting puts children at significant safety risk but is needed to meet the deadline.

During a hastily scheduled hearing after the plan was released Friday, Sabraw said the government was presenting a "parade of horribles" that misrepresented his orders. He insisted that the deadline be met.

"The task is laborious, but can be accomplished in the time and manner prescribed," he wrote in a subsequent order.

Sabraw has scheduled four hearings over the next two weeks, including one Monday, to ensure compliance with his order.

Evelyn Stauffer, a spokeswoman for the Health and Human Services Department, said Saturday that the administration proposed its plan "in the interests of transparency and cooperation" after concluding that the abbreviated vetting was necessary to make the deadline.

"Within the time the court allows, we will strive to implement the most comprehensive procedures possible to ensure child welfare," she said. "We look forward to continuing our close work with the court to accomplish the goals we share of safe, expeditious reunification."

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