After misleading parents into waiving their right to be reunited with their children—and then deporting them—the Trump administration claimed on Thursday that if immigrant rights groups want families reunited, they should now be responsible for finding the parents who have been sent back to their home countries.
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The Department of Justice (DOJ), which is being sued by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) over the ongoing family separation crisis begun by the Trump administration in May, said in a court filing that the ACLU should find the parents who are now back in their home countries across Central America.
“The Trump administration chose to rip families apart as a matter of policy to punish people for seeking asylum.” —ACLU
“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,” the DOJ wrote.
On Twitter, the ACLU responded that the group has mobilized to take every possible action to help immigrants affected by the Trump administration’s immigration policies—but asserted that the fate of thousands of family members who have been separated in recent months is the responsibility of the government.
More than 460 parents have been deported without their children, and the ACLU has reportedly spoken with several of the 126 parents who left after signing so-called “voluntary departure orders”—and learned that they were coerced into agreeing to deportation.
“Based on my discussions with these fathers, it appears that none were told the implications of what they were signing or had an understanding of what they were signing,” ACLU attorney Luis Cruz wrote in a court filing. “The manner in which they signed these forms was universally described as intimidating and very stressful. Each described feeling hopeless and believing that they had no alternative but to sign the form.”
In another court filing in July, the ACLU convinced a federal judge to temporarily halt deportations to allow parents time to meet with attorneys, to ensure they understood their rights—in an effort to lessen the chaotic nature of the government’s hasty deportations of parents.
The task the government is attempting to assign the ACLU is made all the more difficult because of the Trump administration’s disregard for record-keeping while separating more than 2,500 children from their parents and then sending parents back to various Central American countries.
An estimated 120 records provided by the government to the ACLU lack addresses for the deported parents, according to Politico.
A Trump administration official told Politico late last month that records for about three quarters of the deported parents show that they did not agree to leave their children in the U.S. alone—directly contradicting Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s claim that “these are parents who have made the decision not to bring the children with them.”