WASHINGTON — The Trump administration disclosed in a court filing Wednesday that the government deported 471 migrant parents separated from their children at the US–Mexico border without first giving them the option to reunify.
It was the first concrete number from the government about the number of parents deported without their children during the spike in family separations in 2018. In court filings last summer, the Justice Department indicated the number was upward of 400, but the numbers continued to change as new information came in and as reunifications began under a federal court order.
More than eight months after a judge in San Diego ordered the government to reunify separated families, information has continued to trickle in about the scope and aftermath of family separations. More than 2,800 children were separated from a parent crossing the border and placed in US custody, and it was clear early on that hundreds of those kids had a parent who had been deported. In Wednesday's filing, the government offered an exact number.
The American Civil Liberties Union has been leading the effort to locate deported parents outside of the United States. Those parents are given a choice about whether to reunify with their children where they are, or waive reunification, which allows their children to stay in the United States and pursue asylum claims.
US District Judge Dana Sabraw issued a preliminary injunction in June 2018 that halted most family separations at the border, finding that the ACLU was likely to succeed in arguing that the separations were unlawful. He ordered the government to reunify families that had already been separated, and required regular reports from the government about its progress.
Nearly all of the more than 2,800 separated children identified in the class-action before Sabraw have either been reunified with a parent or released to a sponsor, according to the government's latest status report. Sabraw is weighing a recent request by the ACLU to expand the number of separated families covered by his order to include situations where a child separated from a parent had already been released from US custody — typically to a sponsor — by the time he entered his injunction in June. The government is opposing the request, citing the effort it would take to account for what happened to those families and arguing that shouldn't be part of this litigation.
Lee Gelernt, the lead ACLU attorney, told BuzzFeed News that the final tally of separated parents and kids — and the number of parents deported without first getting the choice to reunify — could increase, possibly by an "enormous number," if Sabraw grants their request to expand the class.