Judge aims to re­unite im­mi­grants

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Front Page - By El­liot Sp­a­gat

Fed­eral judge ex­pands his au­thor­ity to po­ten­tially thou­sands more chil­dren sep­a­rated at the bor­der.

SAN DIEGO — A fed­eral judge who or­dered that more than 2,700 chil­dren be re­united with their par­ents on Fri­day ex­panded his au­thor­ity to po­ten­tially thou­sands more chil­dren who were sep­a­rated at the bor­der ear­lier dur­ing the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Dana Sabraw ruled that his au­thor­ity ap­plies to par­ents who were sep­a­rated at the bor­der on or after July 1, 2017. Pre­vi­ously, his or­ders ap­plied only to par­ents whose chil­dren were in gov­ern­ment cus­tody on June 26, 2018, when he is­sued his ini­tial de­ci­sion in the case.

Sabraw was re­spond­ing to a re­port in Jan­uary by the U.S. Health and Hu­man Ser­vices De­part­ment’s in­ter­nal watch­dog that said thou­sands more chil­dren may have been sep­a­rated since the sum­mer of 2017, which he noted has not been dis­puted. The de­part­ment’s in­spec­tor gen­eral said the pre­cise num­ber was un­known.

The judge will con­sider next steps on March 28. The first move may be to iden­tify the sep­a­rated fam­i­lies, no easy task be­cause the gov­ern­ment didn’t have an ad­e­quate track­ing sys­tem at the time.

Jus­tice De­part­ment at­tor­ney Scott Ste­wart told the judge last month it would be a “sig­nif­i­cant bur­den” to add fam­i­lies and “blow the case into some other galaxy” after the ad­min­is­tra­tion had “done all things to cor­rect the wrong.”

Sabraw dis­agreed in his 14-page or­der.

“The hall­mark of a civ­i­lized so­ci­ety is mea­sured by how it treats its peo­ple and those within its bor­ders,” he wrote. “That de­fen­dants may have to change course and un­der­take ad­di­tional ef­fort to ad­dress th­ese is­sues does not ren­der mod­i­fi­ca­tion of the class def­i­ni­tion un­fair; it only serves to un­der­score the un­ques­tion­able im­por­tance of the ef­fort and why it is nec­es­sary (and worth­while).”

Jus­tice De­part­ment spokesman Steven Stafford de­clined to com­ment.

The Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union, which sued over the prac­tice of split­ting fam­i­lies, wel­comed the de­ci­sion.

“The court made clear that po­ten­tially thou­sands of chil­dren’s lives are at stake and that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion can­not sim­ply ig­nore the dev­as­ta­tion it has caused,” ACLU at­tor­ney Lee Gel­ernt said.

The ACLU wouldn’t want U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment of­fi­cers to go to the chil­dren’s homes, Gel­ernt said.

Sabraw wrote that iden­ti­fy­ing sep­a­rated par­ents and their chil­dren “may be bur­den­some, (but) it clearly can be done.”

Jal­lyn Sua­log, deputy di­rec­tor of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices’ Of­fice of Refugee Re­set­tle­ment, said in court fil­ings that it would take up to eight hours to re­view each of its 47,083 cases be­tween July 1, 2017, and Sabraw’s June or­der, which trans­lates to 100 em­ploy­ees work­ing up to 471 days. Such an as­sign­ment would “sub­stan­tially im­peril” op­er­a­tions with­out a “rapid, dra­matic ex­pan­sion” in staffing.

The vast ma­jor­ity of sep­a­rated chil­dren are re­leased to rel­a­tives, but many are not par­ents. Of chil­dren re­leased in the 2017 fis­cal year, 49 per­cent went to par­ents, 41 per­cent to close rel­a­tives like an aunt, un­cle, grand­par­ent or adult sib­ling and 10 per­cent to dis­tant rel­a­tives, fam­ily friends and oth­ers.

CHARLES REED/U.S. IM­MI­GRA­TION AND CUS­TOMS EN­FORCE­MENT-AP 2018

Thou­sands more chil­dren sep­a­rated at the bor­der may be af­fected by a ju­di­cial or­der.

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