In a case being heard at the federal courthouse in San Diego, a federal judge approved an agreement to reunite 366 immigrant children with their parents. Meanwhile, more than 500 children remain in custody, deemed ineligible by the government to be reunited with their families. Credit: (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

A federal judge approved the government’s plan on Friday to reunite 366 children with parents who were deported in the aftermath of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy.

But there is one lingering issue brought up by the ACLU that U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw would like lawyers to discuss: Should deported parents be reunified with their children in the United States?

In court filings on Thursday, the ACLU argued that many removed parents may not have understood their rights and were “misled or coerced into believing that asserting their asylum claim would delay or preclude reunification.”

A related family lawsuit filed on behalf of the children argues that parents should be returned to the U.S. as their children seek asylum. In this case on Thursday, Sabraw put a halt to deportations of reunited families.

If that case is successful, the ACLU points out, “reunification in the United States may be required.”

On Friday, Sabraw offered lawyers some “tentative thoughts” on the issue: Parents with removal orders should remain in the U.S. if their child passed a credible fear interview. For deported parents, Sabraw added, the focus should be on reunification, which “from a practical standpoint,” should happen in their home country.

“This will not be a perfect process. This is an enormous undertaking involving a situation of the government’s own making,” he said. “We’ll never be able to come up with a process that is perfect. … All we can do is the best we can do under the present circumstances.”

He gave the parties until next Friday to propose possible solutions.

As part of the new plan, the government will pass along any known contact information for parents to the ACLU, which will try to reach them.

On Friday, ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt noted that the group has called about 100 parents and only reached about half.

“It seems the phone numbers may be inoperative or some people may be in hiding,” he said. “That’s been a problem.”

The government filed new reunification numbers on Thursday that show approximately 565 children are still in custody because they aren’t “eligible” for reunification. This includes cases where, among other factors, the parent was deported or has a “red flag” on a background check. Among the 565 children are 24 under the age of 5.

This summer, the Trump administration began criminally prosecuting border crossers and separating them from their children. On June 20 after enormous backlash from immigrant advocates and politicians, Trump ended the practice.

A few days later, Sabraw ordered the government to reunite up to 3,000 children who were removed from their families.

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Laura C. Morel can be reached at Follow her on Twitter: @lauracmorel.

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Laura C. Morel (she/her) is a reporter for Reveal, covering reproductive health.

She previously covered immigration during the Trump administration. Before joining Reveal, Laura was a reporter at the Tampa Bay Times, where she covered criminal justice issues.

She was a 2022 finalist for the Livingston Award, which recognizes young journalists, along with Reveal data reporter Mohamed Al Elew for an investigation that exposed racial disparities within a federal lending program. She was also a Livingston finalist in 2017 as part of a team of reporters that investigated Walmart’s excessive use of police resources.