Dallas-based immigrant advocacy group doubts family reunification deadline will be met

A federal court order says the U.S. government must reunite the parents and children under 5 years old who were separated under President Trump's "zero-tolerance" immigration policy by this Tuesday.  But don't be surprised if that doesn't happen.

"Some of these parents have already been deported," says Bill Holston, executive director of the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas which provides free legal and support services to immigrants and asylum-seekers.  "How do you connect that parent with a child in a shelter here in the United States?  There's no way to do that quickly."

The federal order was given on June 26, giving the government 15 days to comply (children over the age of 5 must be reunited with their parents by July 26).  A hearing is scheduled for Monday to determine whether or not an extension will be granted, but whenever the deadline comes, Holston says there will be a consequence if it's not met.

"[The government has] a federal court order, so if they violate it the government can be found in contempt of court.  And since you can't imprison a nation [the judge] can enforce this order against individual government employees."

Holston says he believes many on the government side are making a good-faith effort to reunite families quickly but they've been hampered by orders that haven't always been clear in regards to how to execute them.  And even if and when all of the nearly 3,000 separated children are returned, the "zero-tolerance" policy will still pose problems.  Previously, first-time offenses for crossing the border illegally--which is a misdemeanor--usually resulted in simple deportation if a person had a clean criminal record.  The decision to instead prosecute everyone who crosses has overwhelmed immigration courts which were already backed up, and detaining families costs a lot of taxpayer dollars.

Additionally, Holston says immigrants trying to legally cross to seek asylum from violence and oppression in their home countries are being turned away.  But he's not pushing for open borders, just for due process for those who are legitimately desperate.

"People do not leave their homes and travel a thousand miles for frivolous reasons.  They do that because they don't think their life is livable in that country.

"There are people who need to be deported.  There are people we shouldn't allow into the United States.  But we should also, at the same time, recognize our legal obligation under American and international law to properly adjudicate asylum claims."