Judge Asks DOJ To Step Up Reuniting Families
KPBS Midday Edition Segments / October 23, 2020
A federal judge wants the Department of Justice to participate more in the search for the parents of hundreds of children it separated from them at the border.
Speaker 1: 00:00 A federal judge in San Diego says the U S government has to get more involved in the effort to find the parents of children separated from their families at the border. More than two years after judge Dana, sobre ordered government officials to track down the parents of children taken at the border, the families of 545 children have still not been found. The failure of the Trump administration to reunify families came up in last night's presidential debate.
Speaker 2: 00:30 Yes, we're working on it very well. We're trying very hard, but a lot of these kids come out without the parents. They come over through cartels and through coyotes and through gangs. By let me bring you into this conferences, quick response. And then another question to you. These 500 plus kids came with parents. They separated them at the border to make it a disincentive to come to begin with
Speaker 1: 00:52 Johnny mez, KPBS reporter max Reveley Nadler. Max. Welcome. Good to be here. The hearing yesterday was part of the second phase in the effort to reunite children with their parents are these 545 remaining kids. The children of parents who've been deported.
Speaker 3: 01:09 Uh, these 545 remaining kids did come. The vast majority came with their parents or a close relative. So, um, vice-president Biden is absolutely right there. Um, that these were kids who were separated, not from traffickers or from, you know, quote unquote coyotes, but from the parents themselves and the parents have, for the most part been deported,
Speaker 1: 01:32 Who's been doing most of the searching to reunite these particular families.
Speaker 3: 01:36 So the search for the families was really an unfunded mandate from the judge, the federal government hasn't been expending resources to find these families. I mean, they've been coordinating with some of the groups that have been tracking these down, but really it's these nonprofit organizations working with groups like that were, that were plaintiffs like the ACLU, uh, specifically this one group justice in motion has been going down to central America and really, you know, embarking on this difficult task, especially during a pandemic to try to find these families who were separated from their children almost, you know, three years ago.
Speaker 1: 02:09 What kind of a role does judge [inaudible] want the government now to play in finding the parents of the children?
Speaker 3: 02:15 Well, the government has already been very involved in finding these children in terms of sharing information with the plaintiffs. What he was getting at yesterday was basically they've created a technical system, an online system, a repository of information that all of these branches of the government might have information about where these parents are, right? Because family separation happened because of prosecution by the federal government. So that's the department of justice, but when somebody is deported, that's immigration and customs enforcement, which falls under the department of Homeland security. Uh, if you're being held in Marshall's custody, that's the department of justice. If you're being held in immigration custody, that's ice. So you have all of these different repositories of information that may be overlap and maybe they don't, but he wants to see them all in one place. And right now the department of justice, he feels has not been sharing as willingly or as clearly, or as aggressively as they could.
Speaker 1: 03:05 Now last night, the president said the children separated from their parents are well taken care of in facilities that are very clean. Where are most of these children living now? Right?
Speaker 3: 03:16 It's tough. It varies. So a lot of them have gone on to sponsors. Uh, some have gone on to family members who already live here. A few are in, um, the shelters for children and, uh, you foster care. Uh, and, and a few people have probably at this point aged out because it's happened so long ago. So they are here in the United States, uh, still pursuing their asylum claims and, and living independently.
Speaker 1: 03:42 If the parents of these kids are found, what happens then
Speaker 3: 03:45 The parents are given a choice. They can choose to re uh, connect with their children in the United States. That was something that was allowable under the settlement that was reached between the federal government and the plaintiffs here. So they could come to the United States and continue to pursue their asylum claims reunited with their children, or they could stay in central America and have their kid pursue it alone. A lot of times what happens is if you have family it back in central America, or if you have younger children, or if you're just worried that, you know, getting to the border itself is going to be far too dangerous. You don't want to take that risk, especially right now, when there are so many barriers to getting into the United States. I mean, I followed one night, um, a group of parents who had been separated from their children by this policy, as they tried to get into the United States and they weren't allowed. So it's not a given once you are identified,
Speaker 1: 04:40 There seems to be, uh, some question about whether the family separation policy at the border has really ended. Are families still being separated,
Speaker 3: 04:50 You know, by virtue of the way our system works, uh, immigration and customs enforcement is involved in family separation every single day when it takes people who are family members and puts them into, uh, immigration custody. So that's family separation. If you're taking a very general view, if you're looking at it specifically where you are prosecuting the parent and you are putting the kid in the office of refugee and resettlement and basically into a shelter that policy has by all accounts ended. But there are instances where similar events happen, where especially during the pandemic, people are crossing the border. There's very little accountability over who is being sent back and where they're being sent back to. And we've known situations over the past year, especially in San Diego, where parents have given birth to a U S citizen child after crossing the border. And then they, they themselves are either threatened with being sent back to Mexico or are sent back to Mexico under the remain in Mexico policy. So this specific program, the zero tolerance has really been phased out in terms of employing family separation as kind of, you know, a punitive as Biden was referring to. But in general, the way we just generally run our immigration system, it's engaged in family separation every day
Speaker 2: 06:05 In speaking with KPBS reporter, max Rivlin, Nadler, and max. Thank you. Thank you.