A California federal judge’s preliminary injunction issued on June 26 forced the Trump administration to begin the process of reuniting thousands of migrant families it separated as part of its heavily criticized “zero tolerance” immigration policy. But as the ensuing weeks have demonstrated, making families whole again, particularly when no plan for doing so previously existed, is much more difficult than tearing them apart.
The Trump administration failed to reunite fewer than half of the detained children under age 5 with their families in the initial July 10 deadline set by the Hon. Dana Sabraw of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California. Moving forward, the administration must reunite an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 children over age 5 with their families by July 26. Determining proof of a parental relationship is an obstacle faced in numerous instances, particularly where parents did not carry documentation. In other cases, location is an impediment. Some parents have already been deported.
The fact Judge Sabraw’s injunction required the government to reconnect families is certainly positive, Fordham Law Clinical Professor Gemma Solimene said. Still, there are numerous families, separated for weeks and months, who won’t benefit from the decision.
“There’s no question the government created this problem,” Solimene said. “Had they never separated these individuals from their children there would be no need for this order.”
Trump issued an executive order on June 20 ending the “zero tolerance” policy. But not before a massive contingent of immigrant rights activists, politicians, and religious leaders condemned the practice of locking up children and separating them from their parents. The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit in Ms. L v. ICE, which resulted in the injunction.
“Let’s be honest: if not for the universal outrage on separation of children from their parents, much of what is currently resulting from the actions brought in the courts would not likely have occurred,” Solimene observed.
Judge Sabraw’s order also required the government to establish telephonic communication between parents and children within 10 days. The government’s apparent lack of an identification system to connect parents with children compounded the difficulty it has faced meeting the court-ordered deadlines.
“If parents and children are separated, the government needs to put in place and implement procedures that would allow for easy reunification. They should know where children are being sent and facilitate and maintain communication between parents and children,” Solimene said.
Prior to Sabraw’s injunction, President Trump called for migrants seeking asylum to be sent back to their country without a court hearing. Trump’s comments ignore clear laws and procedures for individuals to have the ability to apply for asylum based on a credible fear of returning to their home country.
“If you take Trump’s statement at face value, what he’s essentially saying is people don’t have real claims of fear, and the United States should not be playing a role in protecting these individuals even if they do,” Solimene said. Further, Trump’s comments on Twitter that migrants “infest” America dehumanizes them in an attempt to convince his supporters that they should not be entitled to due process under the law, the professor noted.
Congressional committees could call the Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen M. Nielsen and individuals leading the Office of Refugee Resettlement to testify in hearings to explain what is transpiring and to put a check on the executive branch, but they’ve opted not to, much to the chagrin of Solimene and many others.
“We’ve seen this type of inaction for the last 16 months,” Solimene said. “It’s mind-boggling.”