SAN DIEGO (NEWS 8) – The American Civil Liberties Union on Friday called on the federal government to pay to reunite families that were separated at the border after a San Diego federal judge heard an update on the Trump administration’s efforts to return children to their parents.
“We cannot disagree more strongly with the government's assertion that parents should have to pay to get their children back,” said attorney Lee Gelernt , as the ACLU and the U.S. Department of Justice squared off in a San Diego federal court
The government has been working to adhere to a mandate to reunite parents and kids separated at the border. The focus is now on children older than five years old.
The Justice Department warned it might take longer because of DNA tests to confirm the relationship between parents and children.
Judge Dana Sabraw directed the government to pay for all DNA testing – something the ACLU feared might get passed on to the parents. The government said it would use DNA for “not the majority of cases.” Further, it said DNA would be used as a last resort when documentation is not available.
“We are very pleased the court is not accepting the government's proposal that the government be left to its own devices,” said Gelernt.
The ACLU also claimed some parents were asked to pay travel expenses for the reunification – telling the court one parent was told to wire $1,900 to Western Union to pay for reunification, plus arranging a plane ticket before being told to cancel it because someone else was purchasing a flight for the child.
“We believe it's outrageous for the United States government to take these children away. They of course pay for the children to be taken away, but now are saying we may ask some parents to pay to get their child back,” said Gelernt.
DOJ attorney Sarah Fabian left the courthouse without comment, but she did tell the judge paying for travel is “a huge ask for the government.”
The judge told her, “the government will make it happen.” The judge left the door open to making changes based on a reunification plan by the DOJ – a plan the government did not have during the hearing. The government said ti would add it later.
“The fact the government did not have the plan ready to submit to court is one more example why it is critical the court stay on top of the process,” said Gelernt.
Both sides will reunite in court on Monday to review the government’s reunification plan.
Judge Sabraw scheduled regular appearances for both sides to give the court updates through the deadline on July 26th.