While the federal government remained silent on how it plans to comply with a federal judge’s order to reunite families separated under its “zero tolerance” policy, the Department of Homeland Security has asked the Defense Department to house immigrant families at “camp facilities” on military sites.
Meanwhile, none of the agencies involved in the chaotic roll-out of the policy in which children were taken from parents who crossed the border between ports of entry answered our questions on how they would reunite the families within 30 days, as ordered by Judge Dana Sabraw in a 26 June 2018 preliminary injunction.
Sabraw’s order resulted from a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California. In enjoining family separations under “zero tolerance,” Sabraw sharply criticized the government for its negligence in keeping track of parents and children, writing:
The government readily keeps track of personal property of detainees in criminal and immigration proceedings. Money, important documents, and automobiles, to name a few, are routinely cataloged, stored, ,tracked and produced upon a detainees’ release at all levels — state and federal, citizen and alien. Yet. the government has no system in place to keep track of, provide effective communication with, and promptly produce alien children. The unfortunate reality is that under the present system migrant children are not accounted for with the same efficiency and accuracy as property.
Sabraw ordered that all children under five years of age be returned to their parents within 14 days while children over five be reunited within 30 days. He also ordered that the federal government halt deporting immigrants without their children.
The Trump administration has floated housing immigrants on military sites for months. Before the injunction, HHS and immigration authorities have said they were waiting on Congress to modify the Flores settlement agreement, a law that limits child detention to 20 days, so that authorities could incarcerate immigrant families together for prolonged periods. HHS officials during a 26 June 2018 press call said they had 2,047 migrant children separated under “zero tolerance” in their care — only six fewer than the number given six days earlier. They refused to say whether HHS was still receiving kids taken at the border under the policy.
According to the Pentagon, DHS requested the military “house and care for an alien family population of up to 12,000 people.” Per the Defense Department:
DHS requests that DoD identify any available facilities that could be used for that purpose. If facilities are not available, DoD has been asked to identify available DoD land and construct semi-separate, soft-sided camp facilities capable of sheltering up to 4,000 people, at three separate locations.
Within 45 days, DHS wants the military to have the capacity to house 2,000 people and wants the facilities to be located in California, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.
Under “zero tolerance” all immigrants who are apprehended crossing the southern border between officiala ports of entry are charged with crimes — most with misdemeanor improper entry. As a result, their children were taken from them and placed with HHS for care. Although there had initially appeared to be no plan by the federal government to ensure that all minors were returned to their families, the administration backpedaled amid public backlash and news reports detailing distraught parents and traumatized children.
We sent questions to DHS, HHS and the Justice Department and received no answers from those agencies. ACLU director Anthony Romero said the organization will pursue further litigation if necessary to force the government to comply, saying, “These children are in serious danger of becoming irreparably harmed for the rest of their lives.”