Originally published by Politico
A federal judge on Monday said he will issue a temporary halt to deportations of migrant parents who are reunited with their children.
U.S. District Court Judge Dana Sabraw said during court proceedings in San Diego that he will stay deportations pending resolution of the issue.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a motion earlier in the day that called for reunited migrant parents to be protected from deportation for seven days after being reconnected with their children.
The ACLU, which represents the plaintiffs in a high-profile case over family separations at the border, said the pause was needed to ensure that parents slated for removal can make informed decisions about whether to leave their children behind in the United States.
The “persistent and increasing rumors” that parents will be deported immediately after reunification necessitates the moratorium, the ACLU argued in the filing.
Justice Department attorney Scott Stewart said in court Monday that the Trump administration opposes delaying deportations and will file a briefing in response by July 23.
Sarah Fabian, another DOJ attorney in the case, suggested the stay of deportations could affect the process of reunifying families due to limited immigration detention space, but Sabraw rejected that idea.
“That’s not an option,” the judge said. “If space is an issue, then the government will have to make space.”
Sabraw excoriated the administration last week for its execution of his order to reunify migrant families who were separated at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The Trump administration faced a July 10 deadline to reunite 102 children under age 5 with their parents, but failed to reconnect 46 children due to security concerns and other logistical hurdles. Under Sabraw’s order, the administration must reunite a broader pool of more than 2,500 separated children by July 26.
Sabraw on Friday complained that HHS officials seemed to be using safety concerns as “cover” to avoid meeting the late-July deadline.
HHS submitted an updated reunification plan to the court Sunday night after Sabraw’s castigation and sent Cmdr. Jonathan White, an executive director in the office of the HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, to testify before the judge in San Diego.
The plan — and White’s explanation of it — won praise Monday from the judge.
“I have every confidence that you are the right person to do this,” Sabraw told White in court. “When I hear your testimony and look at the plan, it provides a great deal of comfort. I also have the impression that you’re operating in absolute good faith.”
The warm reception for White stood in contrast to the judge’s criticism of a court filing last week by Chris Meekins, deputy assistant secretary of preparedness and response for HHS.
In a filing Friday, Meekins argued a streamlined reunification process ordered by Sabraw “materially increases the risk of harm to children."
Sabraw on Monday called the declaration “deeply troubling” and said it seemed to ignore that children had been separated from parents at the border and instead treated them as typical unaccompanied minors who arrived alone.
“Mr. Meekins, apparently, wants to hold children for months,” Sabraw said, calling such a decision “not in the best interest of children.”
During his court testimony Monday, White said that ORR had identified 2,551 separated children in its custody ages 5 to 17. Of those, the refugee office has matched 2,480 to parents, which leaves the parentage of 71 still undetermined.
According to White, 1,609 parents of those children remain in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He said 1,317 have cleared ORR parentage and security checks.
ICE is conducting its own security checks after ORR, according to White. As of this morning, 918 parents had completed the ICE process, he said.
Fifty-one parents failed the ICE check and 348 have pending clearances, White said.
In its filing Monday, the ACLU argued that the situation of migrant parents has grown more complex in recent weeks, which required the judge to halt deportations.
In June, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued an immigration law decision that restricts asylum eligibility for victims of “private violence,” including domestic violence and gang violence.
“As a result of the Attorney General’s (patently unlawful) asylum decision, it will be that much more difficult to advise families about whether a child will ultimately prevail in his or her asylum claim,” the ACLU said in the filing, “or instead will spend years by themselves in the United States fighting their case in the immigration courts, only to be removed at the end of the day.”