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Government Proud Of Its Great Job Reuniting Two-Thirds Of Families It Ripped Apart
Government fails to reunify over 700 kids, gives itself A+, foil star, and pizza party
Yesterday's court-ordered deadline to reunify all the families came and went at midnight Pacific time, and by the end of the day the government was still holding 711 children it had taken from their parents as part of Donald Trump's family separation policy. The government then gave itself a big pat on the back for having definitely returned 1,442 kids it deemed "eligible" for reunification, because moving the goalposts was the only way to call this a successful "resolution" to the crisis the government itself created. Now ICE can get on with the humanitarian work of convincing parents to drop asylum claims and deporting as many of them as possible.
In court filings yesterday, the Justice Department told US District Judge Dana Sabraw that of the roughly 2,500 children taken from their parents during Trump's "zero tolerance" experiment, 1442 had definitely been reunited with parents. Another 378 had been released from the custody of Health and Human Services, mostly through the normal-ish process of placing minors with sponsors -- usually family members or at least family friends in the US. That number also includes some families that were reunified before the court order and some minors who turned 18 while in custody, although the government didn't provide a numerical breakdown of the 378. Most of the reunified families have been released from detention, although some were reunited in detention centers and are still being held by ICE.
Golly, the government is proud of its fantastic work at bodging together a partial fix for the problem Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions created by taking kids away with no discernible plan to reunite them, ever.
Chris Meekins, an official at the Department of Health and Human Services, which has led the reunification effort, told reporters that "hundreds of staff have worked 24/7" to meet the court's 30-day deadline. Administration officials said they would work with the court to figure out how to return the remaining children, including those whose parents have been deported.
Even Judge Sabraw, who had sometimes shown little patience with government excuses, seems to have been snowed , calling the barely minimal accomplishment of reuniting just two thirds of the families a "remarkable achievement." Sorry, but a 66 percent score on any final exam would still be a "D." But for the sake of the kids, Sabraw now has to push the government to finish the Incomplete. No extra credit for any of these dicks.
The ACLU's lead attorney, Lee Gelernt, said Thursday the government should hold off on the toasts and party favors:
Gelernt said the government was praising itself for meeting benchmarks it set and that it would take far longer to sort out the cases of children still in government custody.
"They shouldn't be proud of the work they're doing," he told reporters.
"It should just be: 'We created a cruel, inhumane unconstitutional policy. Now we're trying to fix it in every way we can and make these families whole,'" Gelernt said.
As for the 711 kids determined to be "ineligible" for reunification, the biggest portion -- 431 -- were made that way by the government, which deported the parents. The court, the government, and the ACLU, which represents the plaintiffs in the case, will have to work out what will be done to reunify those kids with their parents; maybe the government will even find all the parents, for which we suppose the administration would expect additional praise.
Another 67 kids won't be given back because of a "red flag" against the parents -- either a criminal history (and the nature of what "disqualifies" parents for reunification is one more matter the ACLU is fighting) or a claim that the person the kid was taken from wasn't the kids' parent. Despite the rightwing narrative that thousands of child traffickers routinely cross the border, falsely claiming they're parents, most of these cases have been other relatives: grandparents, adult siblings, etc.
And then there are the parents the government says "waived" the chance to be reunified with their kids. The DOJ says 120 children's parents signed waivers, but the ACLU wants all of those cases reviewed, since many of the parents were misled into signing. Some were told agreeing to deportation was the only way to get their kids back, and many who speak indigenous Central American languages had no idea what they were signing at all. One Guatemalan man told officials he just wanted to get his daughter back, and was surprised to learn from an attorney that the form he'd signed actually waived his rights to be reunified -- a situation typical of dozens of parents, according to the ACLU.
Worse, Politico reports that of the hundreds of parents already deported, most weren't even informed of their options, although the heads of both Homeland Security, which does the deportations, and HHS, which has housed the children, have insisted in recent weeks that every single parent had agreed to give up their kids and be deported. DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has said, "All of these adults who left without their kids left based on a decision to leave their children," insisting they'd all been given a choice (a claim she repeated just last week on Fox News), and HHS Secretary Alex Azar said July 5, "If any parent has been deported ... without their child, that likely would be a scenario where the parent had actually asked that the child remain." All completely legit and orderly, don't you see.
Instead, a government source tells Politico the government only has paperwork documenting a parent's decision for about a quarter of the deported parents -- and again, it's not clear those who did sign their kids over to the US government's tender mercies understood those Sophie's Choice forms in the first place. Again, there will be much more wrangling before those cases are resolved.
The reunification process has been far from orderly, because chaos and incompetence have been weaponized by team Trump. For parents who have gotten their kids back, the next phase of the New Cruelty starts immediately. The government has final deportation orders against some 900 of them, even those making asylum cases. Sabraw will rule today on an ACLU motion to stay any deportations for another week; the government says 48 hours should be all the time ACLU lawyers need to investigate the details of all those cases. After all, since family separation hasn't slowed down border crossings, the government needs to free up lots of room in those tent cities.