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San Diego Federal Judge Approves Ongoing Reunification Plan, With One Exception

A Guatemalan child paints at the El Chaparral U.S.-Mexico border crossing, in...

Credit: Associated Press

Above: A Guatemalan child paints at the El Chaparral U.S.-Mexico border crossing, in Tijuana, Mexico, Wednesday, May 2, 2018.

During a hearing Friday, a federal judge in San Diego said that he "wholeheartedly" approves an updated plan for reunifying more than 500 children who remain separated from their parents, with one reservation: where certain families will be reunited.

The ACLU argues that some parents who were deported without their children should be flown back to the U.S. to be reunified with their children here. But the government wants everyone reunited in their home countries, with children flown mostly to Central America.

RELATED: ACLU Sues ICE For Allegedly Separating 'Hundreds' Of Migrant Families

U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw said he was inclined to side with the government but that he would reserve judgment for now.

"This is an enormous undertaking involving a situation of the government's own making, but we will never be able to come up with a process that is perfect or that restores all rights as if this incident never happened," said Sabraw. "All we can do is the best we can do under the present circumstances."

He said he was concerned about the jurisdictional issues involved with the idea of flying asylum seekers back to the U.S. and wanted to be practical about the reunifications.

"The overarching goal here is reunification, and it seems to me that the government's plan which contemplates reunification in the home country is the appropriate plan," Sabraw said.

ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt asked the judge to reserve judgment on the issue for now. The judge agreed to give the parties more time to confer and raise the issue again next Thursday if need be. Sabraw also asked the government for another detailed report for that day on the reunification progress.

Gelernt said some parents may have been coerced or misled into agreeing to be removed from the U.S. without their children. He said he wants time to speak to those parents to determine if they may have a right to be reunited in the U.S.

He said the ACLU has succeeded in reaching less than 50 of 366 parents who are no longer in the U.S. because the U.S.-government-provided phone numbers appear to be largely inoperative.

The status update hearing came a day after Sabraw extended a stay on deportations of separated families, allowing them to pursue their asylum claims in the U.S.

More than 2,500 children have been separated from their parents.

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