Judges Considering Next Moves With Hundreds Of Migrant Children Still Separated

Jul 27, 2018
Originally published on July 27, 2018 6:44 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The court-imposed deadline for the Trump administration to reunite thousands of migrant families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border has come and gone. The judge who set that deadline says the government deserves, quote, "great credit" for reunifying more than 1,400 children with their parents. But he also chastised the Trump administration for losing hundreds of parents. And in Los Angeles today, a second federal judge said she will appoint an independent monitor to oversee the government and how they treat children in detention at facilities near the border.

Joining us now to talk about this is NPR's Joel Rose. And Joel, first let's start with that hearing in the family reunification case. What happened?

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Right. Well, this is a hearing before Judge Dana Sabraw. He's the one who ordered the Trump administration to reunite the migrant families that had been separated at the border. Sabraw commended the administration for moving to reunify as many families as it has as quickly as it has. The administration says it's reunified all the families it considers, quote, "eligible." That's more than 1,400 children reunited with their parents, as you said.

But it still leaves more than 700 children who are not reunified because their parents are considered ineligible, including more than 400 who are no longer even in the U.S. Judge Sabraw said the focus now should be on finding those parents and another 50 or so who are in the U.S. without their children. And he said he wants the agencies involved to communicate better going forward to make sure something like this cannot happen again.

CORNISH: What about the families who are now reunited? What happens to them?

ROSE: Many of them are likely to be deported and rather swiftly. The Trump administration says a thousand parents can be deported, and it wants to move quickly to do that, giving them just 48 hours to consult with a lawyer. ACLU - the - excuse me - the American Civil Liberties Union which brought the case in the first place argued that the parents should get at least seven days after reunion with their kids before being deported so that they could weigh their options together, whether they wanted to be deported together or to leave the children here in the U.S. to pursue their own immigration cases. And the ACLU argued that was too momentous a decision to make in just a day or two. The judge said he would rule over the weekend on whether to grant the ACLU's request on whether to postpone deportations for a week.

CORNISH: As we mentioned, there are children now in federal custody because their parents have been deported or otherwise left the U.S. What's going to happen to them?

ROSE: Well, the ACLU says the first step there is just to find the parents. Most are probably back in Central America. The ACLU says lawyers and nonprofits there are already working on that, trying to locate them. And then the ACLU argues that those parents should have a say in what happens to themselves and their children. Judge Sabraw wants to stay involved in this process, it seems. He's ordered the parties to continue submitting weekly reports to him and to hold status conferences by telephone every Friday going forward.

CORNISH: All right, the second issue, the federal judge in LA who's appointing an independent monitor to oversee how the government actually treats these kids in immigration detention - what more can you tell us about that?

ROSE: This is the long-running case known as Flores about how the government treats immigrant children in detention. And the judge in this case oversees what's called the Flores settlement which was signed more than 20 years ago. And basically it dictates how the government has to care for the kids. And it limits how long children can be held in jail-like settings to only three weeks. The Trump administration has made no secret that it doesn't like the Flores settlement and would like to be able to hold children and parents in detention longer than that. But Judge Gee has already said no to the government on that.

CORNISH: Why did she decide to appoint this monitor now?

ROSE: Well, immigration lawyers, the plaintiffs in the case say the Trump administration has failed to hold up its end of the agreement, that it's held children in inhumane conditions, giving them spoiled food, for example, foul-smelling water. And the plaintiffs submitted hundreds of pages of evidence about this earlier in the month. The government denies those allegations. Its own monitors say conditions in immigration detention centers are adequate. But Judge Gee simply was not persuaded. At the hearing today, she said she's going to move quickly to install an independent monitor to make sure that the government is complying with Flores.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Joel Rose. Thanks for your reporting, Joel.

ROSE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.