It’s bizarre but hardly surprising: on Thursday, the Trump administration told a federal judge that it wasn’t responsible for finding deported immigrant parents whose children remain in the United States.
In a court filing, the Department of Justice argued that the responsibility lies with the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU led a class-action lawsuit over family separations. According to the government, its role in representing the plaintiffs takes the onus of reunification off Washington.
“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 country,” the Justice Department said.
Along with spearheading a possible investigation, the DOJ suggested that the ACLU determine whether deported parents even wish to be reunited with their children.
POLITICO reports that an administration official said 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.”
Some immigrant parents have claimed the were coerced into leaving their children behind. The Washington Post wrote in late July that an array of tactics was used to pigeonhole mothers and fathers into being deported.
One Guatemalan man told the ACLU that he’d been asked to sign a sheet of paper penned in English. An indigenous speaker of Akatek, he couldn’t understand the written words or Spanish spoken by a translator. He didn’t find out until he met with an attorney that he’d ‘voluntarily’ waived his court-ordered right to be reunited with the 8-year old he’d last seen at the border.
Other immigrants say they were told that deportation would be the ‘easiest’ way to see their children again.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has said, time and time again, that no parents were deported without being given a chance to take their children with them. Nevertheless, a Trump administration official told POLTIICO that an ‘estimated three-quarters’ of parents who left the country alone had consented to abandon their kids in American detention centers.
As part of Thursday’s filing, the ACLU questioned the administration’s claims that it isn’t responsible for deportees, saying it “must bear the ultimate burden of finding the parents.”
The ACLU also argued that President Trump’s “unconstitutional separation practice” led to the family separation crisis in the first place. Moreover, says the organization, the federal government possesses far more resources and is better equipped for the task than the American Civil Liberties Union.
Address-bearing documents provided to the ACLU were, in many cases, useless. Several parents had their residences marked as “in DHS custody.” Other records say “calle sin nombre,” or “street without a name.”