- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The federal government is on track to reunite more than 1,600 parents with their children who were separated from them in the chaos surrounding President Trump’s zero-tolerance border policy, prompting a judge to offer an attaboy to the administration.

More than 1,000 of the parents have been reunited with their children, and the rest are cleared and are awaiting final travel arrangements ahead of Thursday’s court-ordered deadline.

“This is a remarkable achievement,” Judge Dana Sabraw told the government’s attorneys in a hearing to take stock of progress. “Reunification will have been completed on time, which has to be highlighted, and the government has to be commended for its efforts in that regard.”

But the judge said he is worried about more than 450 other parents who may have been deported while their children remain in the U.S. He said the government has to do more to figure out who those families are and try to find a way to track down the parents.

He said the government may find the task unpleasant but added that it is the result of administration bungles.

“It’s the reality of the case. It’s the reality of a policy that was in place that resulted in large numbers of families being separated without forethought as to reunification and keeping track of people. And that’s the fallout we’re seeing,” he said.

Judge Sabraw inserted himself deeply into the decision-making on deportations and reunifications of thousands of parents who were arrested and jailed for jumping the border in May and June — and who were separated from their children because federal jails had no family facilities.

The judge set a deadline earlier this month for reunifying parents with children younger than 5.

The government was late in meeting that deadline.

The judge also had a July 26 deadline — this Thursday — for reunifying children ages 5 to 17.

Many of the families are being released into the community. The parents have been given ankle monitoring devices and check-in dates.

Even new families arriving at the border are being processed quickly and released into the community rather than being held for deportation, according to immigrant rights advocates who track the family situation. They say no families have been sent from the border to the detention facilities in recent days.

That signals an effective end, at least for now, to Mr. Trump’s hopes of ending the practice of “catch and release,” which the president had blamed for spurring a new wave of illegal immigration.

The government originally identified more than 2,500 parents who may have been separated in the chaos surrounding the zero-tolerance policy.

Of those, some have been deemed to have criminal records or other safety concerns that make it impossible to reunite them with their children. More than 200 children were released to people other than their parents — likely other family members approved by the parents, the government said.

There are also the more than 450 parents who may have been deported. More than 120 others have signaled that they want to be deported without being reunified, leaving their children in the U.S.

Activists say those parents may have been coerced into signing away their rights.

“Most of the people we spoke with were told by ICE officers or guards or both that if they insisted on fighting their asylum claims they would be detained for six to eight months and they would not see their children,” Katie Shepherd, who works for the Immigration Justice Campaign, told reporters on a conference call Tuesday.

She said the government is essentially “holding hundreds of children hostage” to try to push parents into bad decisions.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the parents in the court case before Judge Sabraw, has demanded that parents be given at least a week from the time they are reunited with their children to make a decision on deportation of their children. The judge said he would hear more arguments on the matter Friday.

Lee Gelernt, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, described the reunification as chaos and promised that the judge would be shocked by the details.

In the conference call with reporters, Shalyn Fluharty, a lawyer who tracks activities at the government’s biggest family detention center, described parents who didn’t recognize their children because the juveniles had lost so much weight during the separation.

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