A U.S. district judge ruled the Trump administration is responsible for reuniting hundreds of parents and children who immigration officials separated at the U.S. -Mexico border.
We are eager to help locate these parents, but won't allow the president to pass the blame for the crisis he created.
Cmdr. Jonathan White, the public-health official who has led the reunification effort for HHS, told the senators that, while signing away reunification rights may be hard to fathom, "many parents have made this journey to deliver their children here because that is the desperate, last act of a parent trying to take the child out of some of the most unsafe places to raise a child in the world".
"I have to say that it was disappointing in the respect that there was not a plan proposed", he said.
In June, Sabraw ordered an end to the family separations and set a deadline of July 26 to reunite more than 2,500 families.
ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt said the judge was extremely clear in stating that parents with minor criminal charges could be excluded only from the pool that was required to be reunited by his deadline and should not be permanently ineligible for reunification.
Once a parent is located, the government asked that the parent or his or her attorney provide written confirmation that the parent wants to reunite with his or her child, as opposed to waiving that right.
During the status conference, the deputy director of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project Lee Gelernt said his group is prepared to do more to help reunify the families, but that it still needs more information about them now in government files.
The government, meanwhile, said in a court-ordered joint status report filed Thursday that the ACLU should use its "considerable resources and their network of law firms, NGOs, volunteers and others" to find deported parents and orchestrate reunification. "That will be 100 percent of the government's responsibility".
US District Judge John Bates in Washington DC first issued a ruling in April ordering the government to continue the programme, adding he would stay the decision for 90 days so it could make its case for why it should be ended.
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Sabraw, a George W. Bush appointee who has a mild and straightforward manner on the bench, has not threatened the government with any sanctions.
As of Wednesday, 410 children whose parents were outside the country were in the custody of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department.
Sabraw also noted that as few as 12 of the 500 parents in question have been located.
"It often takes a degree of detective work and investigation in order to track down the most up-to date contact information for deported individuals", the ACLU wrote.
Earlier last week, President Trump tweeted praise for Sabraw without naming him.
"The Trump administration chose to rip families apart as a matter of policy to punish people for seeking asylum". "Thank you, and please look at the previous administrations record - not good!"
"Every day the government has sat on this information has been another day of suffering for these families", he said.
The ACLU said it believes the government has had phone numbers for numerous deported parents for a significant amount of time, asking why those numbers weren't either shared with it or used to contact the parents.
A Trump administration official told Politico late last month that records for about three quarters of the deported parents show that they did not agree to leave their children in the USA alone-directly contradicting Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen's claim that "these are parents who have made the decision not to bring the children with them".