ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
More than 360 immigrant children in U.S. custody are still separated from parents who were deported by the U.S. government. About 200 immigrant children are still without their parents for other reasons. This afternoon, the government presented its plan to San Diego federal judge Dana Sabraw about how to reunify deported parents with their children. Part of that plan includes a heavy lift for the ACLU, which brought the case to reunify the families.
KQED's John Sepulvado listened in to those proceedings today, and he joins us now. Hi, John.
JOHN SEPULVADO, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: So what did we learn today?
SEPULVADO: Well, we learned that the government is moving to reunite deported parents with their kids who are currently in the United States. This week, there are about somewhere - around 360, perhaps as many as 386 children who are in the U.S. while their parents are not. That is considerably lower - about 70 or so lower than last week. We also learned that a happy judge is a more lenient judge.
Last week, Judge Dana Sabraw was angry with the government for failing to offer a plan to reunify deported parents. He ordered them to take responsibility. This week, he seemed very pleased with the progress that was being made, and he was not issuing orders but rather offering guidance - so a marked difference in the decorum in the courtroom.
SHAPIRO: The government wants the ACLU to prove that deported parents want their children, basically putting the burden of proof on the ACLU. How does the ACLU respond to that?
SEPULVADO: Well, they pushed back. And they say that the parents who have been deported were either confused or in some cases coerced, tricked into agreeing to deportation because they believed that meant they'd be reunified with their kids. And the ACLU has consistently pointed to the fact that, you know, in large part, the government has really - they've had to have been ordered for most of this to be able to act. The government really hasn't done much willingly. But the ACLU is also privately acknowledging at this point that they also need to talk to these parents individually. And they recognize that they're going to be part of this solution to reunify these parents.
SHAPIRO: These separations began months ago. And we mentioned that 360 kids are separated from deported parents. What about the other 200 or so?
SEPULVADO: Well, some are separated because they've been deported - as we were just saying, 360 of those. But mainly a lot of these are either because they can't find the parents, they can't locate them - that's about 51 children; their parents haven't been contacted - or because of crimes. And some of these crimes are bad. We heard of, for example, a man who allegedly committed murder in Guatemala.
But a lot of these crimes KQED, the station I work for, has been able to confirm are really, really dubious - I mean, gang affiliations, alleged gang affiliations or DUIs or very, very minor drug charges. And the judge in this case has made it really clear he doesn't want that being the case of those small crimes keeping parents away from their children.
SHAPIRO: Are there repercussions for the government if the families can't be reunited?
SEPULVADO: Well, in this case, the judge has been really, really careful to essentially not get to the point where they're ordering the government to do something that the government will object strongly to enough to file an appeal. But we've seen in other cases - a case that happened in Washington, D.C., yesterday, a federal judge holding an emergency hearing on an asylum case. And he found out that the plaintiffs had already been deported. He called that outrageous and in fact threatened to hold Attorney General Jeff Sessions and other top administration officials in contempt of court. We haven't seen that in San Diego, but he has been - Judge Sabraw has been getting much sterner. So there are potential penalties, but we haven't seen those in place in this case yet.
SHAPIRO: That's KQED's John Sepulvado. Thanks, John.
SEPULVADO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.