Trump administration says it isn’t responsible for reuniting deported parents and children

The ACLU calls the administration’s refusal to reunite deported parents and children "remarkable."

U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen speaks during the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity Summit on July 31, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Kevin Hagen/Getty Images)
U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen speaks during the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity Summit on July 31, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Kevin Hagen/Getty Images)

The Trump administration continues to wash their hands of any responsibility of solving a crisis of their own creation.

On Thursday night, the Department of Justice (DOJ) informed a federal judge that the government is not responsible for finding the over 400 parents separated from their children at the border who were deported and are no longer in the United States.

Instead, the government believes it is the responsibility of the American Civil Liberties Unions (ACLU), the organization suing the federal government, to reunify deported parents with their children.

“Plaintiffs’ counsel should use their considerable resources and their network of law firms, NGOs, volunteers, and others, together with the information that defendants have provided (or will soon provide), to establish contact with possible class members in foreign countries,” DOJ said in a court filing.


An administration official clarified to Politico on Thursday evening that the filing “simply asks the court to require the ACLU to determine the wishes of and fulfill their obligations to their clients, as they have repeatedly represented in court that they would.”

According to the filing, the administration is proposing that every week, the ACLU would share all information about the parents it locates, including whether or not they wish to be reunited with their children.

In other words, the federal government gets to sit back and relax while the ACLU does all the leg-work to solve a problem they did not create. There is no recognition from the federal government that they alone are responsible for making sure these parents will see their children again.


The ACLU says it is more than willing to help reunite families but ultimately it the government who “must bear the ultimate burden of finding the parents,” according to the court filing.

“Not only was it the government’s unconstitutional separation practice that led to this crisis, but the United States Government has far more resources than any group of NGOs,” ACLU attorneys wrote.

The ACLU has called the government’s position “remarkable.”

“The government appears to be taking the remarkable position that it is the job of private entities to find these parents, and it can largely sit back and wait for us to tell them when we find people,” Lee Gelernt, deputy director for the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said in an emailed statement to ThinkProgress.

The ACLU was able to track down 12 deported parents only to find out they were already in contact with the government, the filing states.The government had not shared this information with the ACLU.

In effort to meet a court-imposed deadline to reunite all separated families, the federal government deemed 711 parents “ineligible” for reunification. In some cases, the parent had a criminal history or the child was already released to a sponsor already living in the U.S.


But in some of these cases the parent was deported, sometimes coerced into doing so. According to a recent court filing, 410 kids have parents who are no longer in the United States. A separate hearing before Congress on Tuesday revealed that  number may be more than 500.

Some immigrant parents have recounted to attorneys that they were misinformed into “waiving” their rights in order to be reunited with their children. RAICES, an organization working to provide legal representation to these families, claims the documents presented to primarily Spanish-speaking individuals were written in English and often times the parents only had a few minutes to make the decision.

A father from Guatemala signed an order of self-deportation, as officials told him it was the only way his daughter would be able to stay in the United States.

“He told me it is not safe for his daughter to return to Guatemala due to extreme and specific threats from a powerful and dangerous man who has demanded to ‘buy’ her,” the man’s attorney, Sofia Reive, told Buzzfeed News. “He signed the document because he felt pressured to do so and because he felt like he had no other choice. This entire interaction lasted approximately one minute.”

DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has stated repeatedly that all parents were given the option to be deported with their children, however a Trump administration official told Politico last week that roughly three-quarters of parents deported by themselves left no record that they consented to leave their children behind in the United States.