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Federal Judge Orders U.S. to Reunite Migrant Children with Their Families After Separation at Border

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Hours after the Supreme Court issued its ruling upholding the Muslim travel ban, a federal judge in San Diego ruled immigration officials must stop separating immigrant children from their parents at the border and that migrant children already separated must be reunited with their parents. The ruling says all children under the age of 5 must be reunited with their parents within 14 days, and all children 5 and older must be reunited with their parents within 30 days. The ruling does not require the Trump administration to stop prosecuting people for crossing the border. More than 2,000 children remain separated from their parents, jailed in detention centers across the country. Immigration advocates are warning the Trump administration has no clear plan for how to reunite them with their parents, some of whom have already been deported. We speak to Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project; Linda Sarsour of MPower Change; and Diala Shamas of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, you had that decision yesterday. Then, hours after the Supreme Court ruling upholding the Muslim ban, Federal Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego ruled immigration officials must stop separating immigrant children from their parents at the border, that migrant children already separated must be reunited with their parents. The ruling says all children under the age of 5 must be reunited with their parents within 14 days, and all children 5 and older must be reunited with their parents within 30 days. The ruling does not require the Trump administration to stop prosecuting people for crossing the border. More than 2,000 children remain separated from their parents, jailed in detention centers across the country, immigration advocates warning the Trump administration has no clear plan for how to reunite them with their parents, some of whom who have already been deported. Diala, what about this? What do you understand this means?

DIALA SHAMAS: Well, I will, you know, let those who have been intimately involved in the litigation answer that, but I will say that the family separation issue is one that is the same in underlying—governs the way that this administration has actually been governing, whether it’s from the Muslim ban or at the border. And families are being separated, and that is—and children should not be held hostages.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Lee, what does this practically mean?

LEE GELERNT: Right. So, we brought this case a while ago, back in March, even before it sort of became a major issue, because we had been seeing hundreds of children being separated, before the administration formally announced the policy. What we said back then is we needed prompt reunification of these children. That was back on May 4th when I argued the case. What I said to the judge this past Friday, in an emergency telephone hearing, is, “Prompt reunification is no longer good enough. We need a concrete deadline.” Fortunately, last night, the judge accepted that. As you said, 30 days for all children; kids under 5, 14 days.

The administration does not have a plan. That’s why the judge put them under a deadline. The truth is, we don’t really care about the weeds, how they do it. They just need to get it done. And my basic feeling is, the United States government has so much resources, it’s just a question of whether they’re going to prioritize it, making it urgent. They can get these 2,000 kids back with her parents, if it’s a priority, and that’s what the judge made it, said, “I don’t care how you do it, but get it done.” And if the government needs nonprofits to help, there are so many nonprofits and people and volunteers that will help. They can get it done. They need to do it.

These little kids that I’m meeting with, they are suffering so badly. Four-year-old kid I just met with, asking every night, asking their mother, who they were fortunate enough to get reunited, “Mommy, am I going to be taken away again?” I mean, that’s—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Is there any expectation that the Trump administration will appeal this and delay it further?

LEE GELERNT: Yeah, I think that’s the big question. I genuinely do not know. We hope they won’t. We hope they will say, “Look, we recognize these little kids are being permanently traumatized,” and not appeal. But from this administration, you know, I just don’t know.

AMY GOODMAN: The 4-year-old that you were talking about, the 4-year-old child that you had interviewed?

LEE GELERNT: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what was their circumstances.

LEE GELERNT: Yeah, so this is a mother who fled violence, came here, passed her initial asylum screening, was still detained. Her 4-year-old and 10-year-old were taken away from her for months. Because of the lawsuit, we finally got them reunited. I went to visit them. And the 4-year-old just kept asking his mother, “Is this a bad man? Is this a bad man?” She explained, “No, Mr. Gelernt is here to help us.” Finally, at the end, he came over and gave me a big handshake. But the mother told me, “You know, every night he asks me, 'Are they going to come and take me away again?'” And that’s what we’re hearing. And that’s what the medical community predicted would happen.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about what’s still happening, the stories we’re hearing about people saying that they’re being threatened: If they don’t say that they are guilty, culpable, if they don’t say this, that their children will be put up for adoption?

LEE GELERNT: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: Their children will be taken from them?

LEE GELERNT: Right. There is enormous coercion going on. The mothers and fathers are willing to do almost anything to see their children again. And that’s exactly what the administration’s plan was: stop people from coming over here, because the word would get out, “You’ll lose your children.” And if you actually get here, even if you have a legitimate asylum claim, they want you to give it up so that you can see your children again. It’s as bad as anything I’ve ever seen.

LINDA SARSOUR: And, Amy, the administration lied. Trump announced around, you know, “We’re going to stop separating families,” but I have bore witness at LaGuardia Airport, very late flight, after 10:00. You know, I was, the day before yesterday, at LaGuardia Airport. United Airlines flight that came in with children who were unaccompanied minors under the age of 10, disoriented. They were wearing all the same-color hoodie. They were like attached to each other. The woman who was with them spoke to them in Spanish, said, “Don’t talk to anyone. Keep on walking.” We were holding up signs telling them in Spanish that we love them, that we see them. And I recorded them in a very, you know, subtle way, because I didn’t want to scare them. But this is still happening.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: This is United, who claimed that they were not going to be doing this, right?

LINDA SARSOUR: Yeah, absolutely. And then—and to say like the question here, even with these court orders, is “Who’s the watchdog? Who holds these people accountable? How do we actually confirm that these kids get reunited?” I don’t trust this administration.

AMY GOODMAN: And how do we even know what the government said, that they said 500 people, children, have been reunited with their parents lately?

LINDA SARSOUR: How do we know that that’s even true? I don’t even know.

LEE GELERNT: Right. So I think one of the important things is the judge ruled last night—not only did he say, “Reunify all the kids,” but he said, “Stop separations, going forward.” We now have that base from which to work with. If we find out that they are not complying, we will go back to him immediately.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there, but of course we’re going to continue to cover this, and Democracy Now! will be on the border in Texas tomorrow, broadcasting live on Thursday and Friday. We want to thank Linda Sarsour with MPower Change; Diala Shamas, Center for Constitutional Rights—we’ll link to your report that you did with Yale University; and Lee Gelernt, ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, who brought both these cases to court.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we head south, because there’s another election taking place. It’s Sunday in Mexico. Stay with us.

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