AS ONE strolls the stately streets of Washington, D.C., taking in the breathtaking scale and august architecture of the federal government’s multifarious departments, agencies and commissions — more than 430 of them, by some estimates — one can only stand in awe of the sheer size, resources and power of the . . . American Civil Liberties Union. That, in a nutshell, was the stance the Justice Department seemed to take in court last week. It argued that the ACLU, not the U.S. government, is capable of cleaning up the ongoing mess stemming from the Trump administration’s brief but incalculably damaging campaign to separate hundreds of migrant children from their parents.
As the government said in court filings, the ACLU, which represents the parents, should use its “considerable resources” and network of advocacy groups, lawyers and volunteers to reunify hundreds of families that remain sundered despite U.S. District Judge Dana M. Sabraw’s order that they be reunified. The judge was having none of it. “This responsibility is 100 percent on the government,” he said.
Edging away from his characteristic understatement, Mr. Sabraw, a Republican appointee, went further. “The reality is that for every parent that is not located, there will be a permanently orphaned child and that is 100 percent the responsibility of the administration,” he said.
The ACLU says it is ready to help reunite families, but it’s preposterous that the government would try to outsource the job and shed its own responsibility. When considering the tragedy visited upon hundreds of families by the heedless, ham-handed cruelty of the Trump administration’s family-separation foray, the statistics may mask the depth of suffering inflicted on individual children, including toddlers and tweens, by President Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
They devised the separation policy, specifically intending to deter future migrants. In the face of public outrage, Mr. Trump reversed the “zero tolerance” policy six weeks after it was proclaimed. But the damage is lasting. Despite Mr. Sabraw’s order that more than 2,500 children be returned to their parents by late July, more than 400 of them, whose parents were deported, remain in government shelters. Federal officials, who had no plan for reuniting families, also have no plan for locating parents, most of them in Guatemala and Honduras , who have already been removed.
A measure of the administration’s callous recklessness is that officials often failed to collect contact information for deported mothers and fathers — cellphone numbers, addresses — that could facilitate reunions with their children. In some cases, government forms list deportees’ addresses in Central America as “calle sin nombre” — street without a name. Very useful.
Mr. Sabraw ordered the administration to appoint an individual to oversee what will be the painstaking process of tracking down deported parents. In the meantime, administration lawyers might take a refresher course on the meaning of accountability and personal responsibility. Of course, ultimate responsibility lies with administration leaders who cared so little for the human beings who are now paying such a high price.