Judge in family separations case: 'We're approaching the end of reunification'
Posted November 9, 2018 6:48 p.m. EST
(CNN) — The reunification process for undocumented immigrant families the US government separated at the southern border is nearly finished, a federal judge said Friday.
"It's heading clearly in the right direction and I think we're approaching the end of reunification, and by all accounts, it's moving very successfully," US District Judge Dana Sabraw said in a telephone status hearing more than four months after he had ordered the government to reunite most of the families.
The painstaking process -- spurred by an American Civil Liberties Union class action lawsuit over family separations -- has stretched for months and faced a number of hurdles as members of an ACLU-led steering committee struggled to track down parents who'd been deported without their children.
As CNN reported Thursday, 171 children from separated families remain in custody. But only 25 of those kids could still eventually be reunited with their parents. The others will not be reunited, either because their parents have declined reunification or because officials have deemed it cannot occur because the parents are unfit or pose a danger.
Despite the praise he offered on the case's progress, the judge also mentioned a Department of Homeland Security inspector general's report on family separations, which detailed how poor communication among government agencies made it tougher for officials to reunify separated families.
"The inspector general's report ... puts blame squarely on various executive branch agencies for the failure to communicate, leading to some very, very significant problems," Sabraw said.
He asked attorneys from the government and the ACLU whether they believed that the matter -- particularly the lack of a central database where different agencies can communicate about parents and kids in custody in real time -- is "appropriately before the court in this litigation or not."
The ACLU's Lee Gelernt said he thought it would be appropriate for the court to address that to ensure "that there is nothing that happens in the future to reignite this problem."
Justice Department attorney Scott Stewart, representing the government, said he wanted to confer and report back on what the government's position is.
Sabraw said attorneys could weigh in further on the matter in their next status report, due November 29, and it can be discussed further in a November 30 hearing.