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In court filings Friday, the federal government argued that even though a recent government report stated that many more children were taken from their parents at the border than have been accounted for, trying to reunite all of them with their parents would be a heck of a lot of work, and taking them away from their new homes would be disruptive, so it would be best just to leave things as they are.

What, you don't agree?


First, let's back up to the report that got this latest part of the family separation fuckery rolling: In January, a report by the inspector general for Health and Human Services said that while the department was pretty sure it had accounted for all the children taken from their parents under Trump's "zero tolerance" policy that started at the end of April 2018, the Department of Homeland Security, which is responsible for border security, had been taking kids from parents well before that, as an effort to dissuade families from crossing the border illegally, or even asking for asylum in the US.

The IG report had no exact estimate but said the total could be "thousands" of children taken from their parents, put in the care of HHS's Office of Refugee resettlement, and then placed with sponsors so they wouldn't be sitting in baby jails. And since DHS didn't even try to keep track of kids and parents who'd been separated (a problem that continued past the announcement of "zero tolerance"), it's nearly impossible to identify all those pre-"zero tolerance" kids. The ACLU, which sued on behalf of the kids taken from parents under "zero tolerance," moved to expand its class action suit to include ALL the children and parents separated under the Trump administration's little experiment in terrorizing immigrant families, and that's how we got to Friday's filings, in which the government says nope, just can't do it.

In one declaration, Jonathan White, a career HHS official who led the effort to identify and reunite parents after a federal judge ruled the government had to reunify the families, argues that because the vast majority of kids who'd been in ORR care have been placed with family members in the USA already, the best thing is to let them stay where they are. White says the "unaccompanied alien children" (UAC) might actually be harmed by any attempt to take them from those placements and return them to parents:

White says the statistics for all children cared for by ORR indicate their US sponsors are almost always family members of one sort or another, although he also plays a clever little statistical game here. White explains,

Remember, the numbers he cites actually cover two populations: The far larger group is kids who crossed the border alone (the truly unaccompanied minors), and whatever number of kids were taken from their parents by DHS then put in ORR care -- the ones who the government made into "unaccompanied alien children" by design. But the entire point is that the IG report already says that outside those accounted for in the lawsuit, there's no way to know how many kids that would be. And since we know of dozens of children who were released to outfits like Betsy DeVos's favorite Bethany Christian Services -- and even they could not say how many kids they had taken custody of -- well, that would imply that in fact not all of the children are with extended family or friends. And there's no way to know how many.

The other declaration, by Jallyn Sualog, ORR's deputy director, gets into the details of how much work it would be to identify all the kids who might have been taken from parents before the start of "zero tolerance." Assuming a starting point of July 1, 2017, roughly a year prior to the period covered by the ACLU lawsuit, ORR would have to review records for 47,083 cases. Since there are no reliable DHS records to identify separation cases, Sualog says every single case would need to be reviewed, which would take 4-8 hours on average. At that rate, a team of 100 employees would take between 235 and 471 calendar days to try and contact every family that sponsored a child to find the kids who'd been separated.

Sualog warns,

Even if performing the analysis Plaintiffs seek were within the realm of the possible, it would substantially imperil ORR's ability to perform its core functions without significant increases in appropriations from Congress, and a rapid, dramatic expansion of the ORR data team.

A lot of this sounds like excuse-making like we've seen before, when the Justice Department cried it was too haaaard to locate all the parents it deported, so maybe the ACLU should do it. But there's another complicating factor, as Vox's immigration reporter Dara Lind pointed out in an interview with the BuzzFeed News morning webcase AM2DM (skip to the 23:15 mark):

Lind explains a hell of a lot of the families sponsoring these kids probably don't want to pick up ANY calls from the government. As they well know, under Team Trump, ORR has been sharing information with Homeland Security, and that has led to undocumented members of sponsoring families being arrested and deported.

In conclusion, this is a huge mess, created by people who took kids from parents with no apparent intention of ever returning them. And while the odds are really good the kids are virtually all placed with family in the USA, it's not clear now whether trying to find them all would make things much better. Lind calls the whole thing a "massive tragedy and bureaucratic clusterfuck," and if trying to fix it results in even more people getting deported, that would compound the tragedy and clusterfuckery.

Of course one option would be to encourage trust among sponsor families by ending the Deport Everyone policy and adding the hundreds of analysts necessary to review all those placements -- yes, even if it means extra appropriations. Remember, that Trump "humanitarian crisis" at the border? He was unintentionally right.

[AP / NBC News / ACLU / AM2DM on Twitter / Declaration of Jonathan White / Declaration of Jallyn Sualog]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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