A woman from Honduras carries her baby inside the Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in McAllen, Texas. Families who have been processed and released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection wait inside the facility before continuing their journey to cities across the United States. Credit: David J. Phillip/Associated Press

Lawyers for the U.S. government told a judge today to reject a plan to reunite all migrant children who were separated from their families within one month, arguing that a “hasty” action would “cause confusion, rather than speed the process of reunifying families in a safe and efficient manner.”

The government attorneys said a 30-day timeline is unrealistic to reunify all families and defended the government’s current process. The government argued that the court should give the Trump administration time to implement the president’s executive order, which the government said would end family separations last week, before imposing new guidelines.

“Orderly implementation of that executive order will, of course, take time to be undertaken properly,” the lawyers told the court in a brief. “A hasty injunctive ruling by this Court on issues of this level of complexity would be as likely to slow and complicate reunification efforts as to speed them.”

More than 2,300 migrant children have been separated from their parents since the Trump administration launched its “zero tolerance” policy in April, which called for criminally charging all adults caught crossing the border without authorization.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a class-action lawsuit in March on behalf of a Congolese woman seeking asylum in the U.S. who was separated from her 7-year-old daughter for months and a Brazilian asylum seeker who was separated from her 14-year-old son.

This week, the ACLU asked U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw of the Southern District of California to order the government to immediately reunite all migrant children who were separated from their parents within 30 days and within 10 days for children younger than 5. ACLU lawyers also asked that parents be given a way to contact their children within a week of being separated and to stop future separations of children from their parents unless the child is in danger.

The Trump administration does not have a solid plan to reunite the thousands of children who have been forcibly removed from their parents, according to the ACLU. The Office of Refugee Resettlement has no system in place to flag a child who has been separated from a parent or to identify and track where that parent is being detained. Parents are supposed to use a resettlement agency hotline number to find their children, but the hotline regularly puts people on hold for up to half an hour, making it nearly impossible for most parents to get information on their children’s whereabouts, according to court documents.

In a court declaration today, Jallyn Sualog, acting deputy director for children’s programs for the resettlement agency, said the agency has strict guidelines on how to release minors to parents and legal guardians to ensure children aren’t trafficked or placed in dangerous home environments. One “operational challenge” in reunifying migrant parents and children, Sualog said, is that the resettlement agency often doesn’t know where the parents or legal guardians are or how to contact them.

Sabraw, the federal judge, said he would rule on a whether to issue an injunction to reunite migrant children separated from their parents soon after receiving the government’s briefings.

Amy Julia Harris can be reached at aharris@revealnews.org. Follow her on Twitter: @amyjharris.

Amy Julia Harris

Amy Julia Harris is a reporter for Reveal, covering vulnerable communities. She and Reveal reporter Shoshana Walter exposed how courts across the country are sending defendants to rehabs that are little more than lucrative work camps for private industry. Their work was a finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in national reporting and won a Sigma Delta Chi Award for investigative reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists. It also led to four government investigations, including two criminal probes and four federal class-action lawsuits alleging slavery and fraud.

Harris was a Livingston Award for Young Journalists finalist for her investigation into the lack of government oversight of religious-based day cares, which led to tragedies for children in Alabama and elsewhere. In a previous project for Reveal, she uncovered widespread squalor in a public housing complex in the San Francisco Bay Area and traced it back to mismanagement and fraud in the troubled public housing agency.

Before joining Reveal, Harris was an education reporter at The Charleston Gazette in West Virginia. She has also written for The Seattle Times, Half Moon Bay Review, and Campaigns and Elections Politics Magazine.