Federal Judge Blasts HHS For Delays In Reuniting Families

Federal Judge Dana Sabraw has blasted the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for claiming that using a streamlined approach to expedite reuniting children with their parents separated at the border would place children in danger.

“Unfortunately, HHS appears to be operating in a vacuum, entirely divorced from the undisputed circumstances of the case,” Sabraw wrote in an order after the HHS announcement on Friday.

The harsh tone was a radical departure from Sabraw’s normal approach to communicating with government officials.  He seemed very upset that HHS seemed to be looking for excuses for them to fail to comply with his court orders, saying:

“This is an attempt to provide cover to Defendants for their own conduct in the practice of family separation, and the lack of foresight and infrastructure necessary to remedy the harms caused by that practice.”

Sabraw then issued an order to have an HHS representative in his court for a hearing on Monday to accompany the usual Justice Department attorneys on the case.

HHS, however, was still defending its plan to reunite separated children, claiming that their vetting procedures are needed if they are to comply with court orders.

An HHS spokesperson said the agency is not using “fuller” vetting procedures because of Sabraw’s decision that requires them to reunite over 2,000 migrant children with their parents by July 26.

“The department has been operating in good faith and earnestly trying to comply with court orders, including the rapidly approaching deadline for reunification,” said HHS spokeswoman Evelyn Stauffer. “Our interpretation of the court’s order is that HHS must make a determination of parentage, fitness, and safety before reunifying families, but that HHS need not undertake the fuller process of vetting for children’s safety that HHS would ordinarily conduct in its operations.”

“In the interests of transparency and cooperation, the department felt it necessary in our filings on Friday to share with the court our view that meeting the deadline would mean truncating the process we might have otherwise followed,” she added.

Stauffer’s statement came after HHS attorneys said in a court filing Friday that shortening the process of vetting migrant parents could lead to some children being placed in “potentially abusive environments.” Under the expedited process parents won’t be given DNA tests, or be subjected to the same thorough background checks given to the parents of children under 5 years old.

But Sabraw responded negatively to the filing, saying that if children were placed in harmful situations after being separated from their parents it was a “failure of the agency.”

“That is on the government,” Sabraw said, according to The Washington Post. “And that’s a failure of the process and it is inconsistent with the court’s order.”