While U.S. officials continue their efforts to track down the hundreds of parents who were deported without their kids, legal experts have been debating a key question: Should deported parents be brought back to the U.S. to be reunited with their children?
Government attorneys have taken the stance that bringing back deported parents would be a step too far. However, ACLU attorneys say it might be the only fair option for some parents, many of whom have given up valid asylum claims because they were led to believe it would reunite them with their children more quickly.
During a phone hearing, the ACLU's Lee Gelernt said, “There may be specific individuals who were misled and coerced.”
The issue of bringing back deported parents is going to be the next major legal battle in the federal lawsuit over family separation. The result can impact hundreds of deported parents. The latest government statistics show that there are 366 migrant children who were separated from parents who are now outside the United States.
In a court filing, Sarah Fabian, attorney for the Justice Department, claimed the government is not required to bring any deported parents back to the United States. She continued to argue that orders to do so goes against the government's right to enforce immigration laws at its discretion.
U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw has yet to make a ruling, but did ask lawyers from both sides to provide more details about the issue. Speaking about the ACLU's proposal to have parents flown back to the United States to pursue asylum requests, Judge Sabraw said, “That would certainly be a significant undertaking, and would be over the strong objection of the government. And I'm not sure about all the jurisdictional arguments that may be raised. And then, from a practical standpoint, it seems to me is that in the best interests of the family, what we're looking for is reunification, and that under the pressing circumstances, that reunification ought to occur in the home country."
While Sabraw said he "approved wholeheartedly" of the latest reunification plan, he expects that “everyone's moving full speed ahead on every possible angle.”
Contacting Deported Parents
Although the ACLU has been able to get phone numbers from the government, the group is still having difficulty contacting deported parents. Gelernt said the ACLU has “been making calls and we have called a good many ... around a third of them. We are unfortunately not reaching many people. It seems the phone numbers may be inoperative and some people may be in hiding, so I think we're going to be circling back with the government to check those numbers."
While the ACLU says that some of the parents they reached want to be united with their kids in their home country, others say they would like to return to the United States and seek asylum, if the option is available for them.
Judge Sabraw issued a temporary restraining order that blocks the government from deporting any families that have been reunited. Sabraw also said that children who've been reunified with their parents should still have the opportunity to pursue asylum in the United States.
“This is an enormous undertaking involving a situation of the government's own making. We will never be able to come up with a process that is perfect or that restores all rights as if this incident never happened. All we can do is the best we can do under the present circumstances," Sabraw said.
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