Administration Faces Another Deadline Concerning Migrant Families
NOEL KING, HOST:
The U.S. government is up against another deadline in the effort to reunite migrant parents and their children who were separated at the U.S.-Mexico border under the Trump administration's zero-tolerance policy. Today, the government has to submit a plan for reuniting families. But the road ahead could be difficult. Some 400 parents were sent back home without their kids. The ACLU sued the Trump administration over this family separation policy. That litigation is ongoing. Lee Gelernt is the ACLU's lead attorney on the case, and he joins us now.
LEE GELERNT: Good morning.
KING: So a judge says - the judge who's been presiding over this says the ACLU also has to submit a plan to reunify these kids with their parents. Why is that? You guys didn't separate them.
GELERNT: Exactly. But what I think the judge has understood over the last few weeks is that without us looking for the families, without us attempting to reunify the families, this may not get done as quickly as it needs to. So we have said we have NGOs here in the United States, abroad. We are willing to help if the government would just give us enough information to let us find these parents. Because if the government's left to their own devices, we don't know when the parents will be found. So we are going to be out there searching for these parents all over the world to find them.
But what the judge has said is, look; the plaintiffs may be able to help you, but they can't do it with just a name and a country. Give them more specific information. The government is sitting on information. They should be giving us that information. We hope the judge tomorrow will order them to give us more specific information - a phone number, a last known address, something to let us track these parents.
KING: Why would the government be sitting on information? They have said repeatedly that they want to get this done. They've been ordered to do it by a judge. Why would they impede the process?
GELERNT: Well, I think what they will say is it's burdensome. And they're working as fast as they can. But given that there are little children's lives at stake, we hope the government will work even faster. I mean, there are 400-plus parents who are abroad. They have files on these parents. I think they could flip through these files very quickly and give us whatever phone numbers, addresses, relatives they have. It shouldn't be that burdensome. And, you know, we're talking about every day a little child being harmed or perhaps irreparably harmed. Given the stakes, we think they ought to just sit down three or four people, go through the files quickly and give us the information.
KING: And once you have the information, just briefly, what do you do then? I imagine it's not a brief process. But how does it work?
GELERNT: Right. So we have organized NGOs here in the United States and abroad, principally in Central America. Most of the families are in Guatemala or Honduras, as we understand it, most of the parents. So we will be calling them. We'll be going out there. We'll have NGOs go to their towns, go to whatever last known address we have and just doing basic detective work to find these parents.
KING: The kids who have yet to be reunited, what's happening to them while they wait? Where are they?
GELERNT: They are in government facilities. And they've been there many months. And some of them are very little. You know, and as the medical community has said in our case and has said publicly, this is causing enormous damage and remarkably at Senate - Senate Judiciary Committee hearings the other day, HHS said we warned the administration that this was going to cause trauma to these children. The administration went ahead and did it anyway. And every day that goes by, these children are just sitting in facilities without their parents.
KING: Just briefly in last 30 seconds, how do you think your reunification plan will differ from the government's?
GELERNT: I think the principal way it'll differ is that we want to move much more quickly, that we don't believe that the United States government does not have the resources to go through 400-plus files very quickly. We believe that we should be getting this information immediately. I think that's the principal difference is the speed.
KING: That's the biggest one, yeah. Lee Gelernt is deputy director of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project. Thank you, sir.
GELERNT: Thank you for having me.
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