Government releases plan to reunite separated families but puts ACLU in charge

At least 539 immigrant families remain separated, with many parents already deported.

According to the most recent government figures. More than 500 families remain separated  (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
According to the most recent government figures. More than 500 families remain separated (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

In a late night court filing Thursday, the Trump administration finally filed its “plan” to reunite deported immigrant parents with children taken from them at the U.S.-Mexico border under President Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy — hours after a court-imposed deadline to do so had already passed.

Earlier in July, U.S. District Court Judge Dana Sabraw ordered the government to halt removals and to present a strategy to reunite those parents already deported from the country with their families, by no later than 3 p.m. Pacific Time on August 9. That deadline came and went with no official plan from the government. Administration officials later claimed their proposal was “still undergoing final review,” and would be “filed with the Court shortly.”

Finally, on Thursday evening, government lawyers produced their plan for the judge.

According to the administration’s plan, one member each from the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Department of State (DOS) will come together to form what the government referred to as the UAC Reunification Coordination Group. The group is charged with fulfilling Judge Sabraw’s mandate requiring the federal government to create an “accountable individual or team” responsible for coordinating reunifications.


The remainder of the plan, however, is bare bones at best and doesn’t fully hold the DOJ, DOS, and HHS responsible for reunifications.

According to the court filing, the plan is as follows:

1. Identify and Resolve Safety/Parentage Concerns
2. Establish contact with parents who have been removed from the United States
3. Determine parent’s intention for child
4. Resolve immigration status of minors to allow reunification
5. Transport minors to their respective countries of origin (COO)

Notably, the government’s plan requires the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) do all the legwork to find those parents who’ve been deported, so that the administration can deport the children back to their home countries to be reunited.


That the federal government has proposed a plan that shifts reunification responsibilities off its shoulders to another organization shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, considering its argument last week that the ACLU simply has better resources to carry out the task.

“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 at the time, referring to the ACLU, which is representing the separated families.

However, a HuffPost report last Wednesday suggested the government may have been skewing the facts. According to the report, the Trump administration has the resources to seek out and reunify deported parents with their children, but has chosen to purposefully slow down the family reunification process by keeping those resources to itself.

Specifically, the ACLU claims Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has deliberately withheld the phone numbers of deported migrant parents for more than a month, crucial information that would have expedited the family reunification process, for which the administration has said the ACLU is responsible.

“The numbers have been [in the children’s files] for a while, and we should have had them for a while,” Lee Gelernt, lead attorney in the ACLU’s lawsuit, told the outlet. “Every day that we didn’t get them is another day we didn’t track parents down [and] weeks and months, potentially, where kids are potentially by themselves.”

For now, the government has asked the ACLU each Monday to provide the UAC Reunification Coordination Group with an updated list of parents who haven’t been reunited and updated list of parents who do not wish to be reunited their children. Additionally, the ACLU must provide the government with a list of parents they have been unable to contact.


According to the most recent government figures, 539 families remain separated as a result of President Trump’s zero-tolerance immigration policy, which refers anyone detained at the border — including asylum seekers — for prosecution. This, only weeks after the government skated past a court deadline to reunite those families on a technicality, by claiming it had matched up all “eligible” families, but not those who had already been deported.

Many of the deported parents have since told their attorneys they were coerced into signing deportation forms after being told it was the only way to reunite with their children.