Trump admin faces 2 family separation policy deadlines

Deported parents return to find children
Evelio Contreras/CNN

The Trump administration is facing two big deadlines Friday in response to a Health and Human Services inspector general report that revealed more migrant children had been separated from their parents than had previously been made public.

Within the last two weeks, a House oversight panel and the American Civil Liberties Union have requested that the administration answer to the report, which found that there was no system in place to account for the “thousands” of children who had been separated from the parents along the US-Mexico border.

HHS and the inspector general were unable to identify an exact figure, citing “significant challenges in identifying separated children.”

A House Energy and Commerce Committee subcommittee headed by Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colorado, gave HHS Secretary Alex Azar until Friday for him to turn over documents related to the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy that led to the separation of families.

US District Judge Dana Sabraw gave the Justice Department until Friday to respond to the inspector general report as part of the ongoing family separation lawsuit Ms. L et al. vs. Immigration and Customs Enforcement et al.

The flurry of requests is yet another example of the administration’s new reality where House Democrats are using their newfound power in the majority to get answers on controversial policies, like the “zero tolerance” practice that took effect under President Donald Trump. And inspector general reports, like the one released in mid-January, are providing yet another opening for inquiries as they unveil more of what occurred behind the scenes.

There’s no guarantee, however, that HHS, in this case, will respond to Congress. Azar has already declined a request to appear before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. But the court deadline would be harder to skip.

The administration had previously identified 2,737 children in its care who had been separated from their parents, but the plaintiffs say the report throws that figure in doubt.

“In short, the report casts serious doubt on the accuracy of the government’s accounting of separations,” a motion from the ACLU tp Sabraw states. “It also indicates that there are numerous separated parents who have been denied their rights under the preliminary injunction.”

The ACLU originally filed the case against the Trump administration last year on behalf of a Congolese woman, referred to as “Ms. L,” seeking asylum in the US who was separated from her 7-year-old daughter. It later expanded to become a class-action lawsuit.

Sabraw issued a preliminary injunction last June blocking most family separations at the US-Mexico border and ordering that those already separated be reunited.

The Justice Department requested a stay of case deadlines as a result of the government shutdown. Some government lawyers had temporarily stopped working on civil cases because of the lapse of appropriations. The stay has since been lifted. But while the government is now reopened, another shutdown threat looms, leaving it unclear how the administration intends to respond to these types of requests.