AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
The Trump administration is racing to meet tomorrow's deadline for uniting migrant families who were separated at the border. Federal officials say more than a thousand children are now back with their parents, but they also acknowledge in court filings that hundreds of families will not be reunited by tomorrow. Joining me now to talk about what's next for all of these families is NPR's Joel Rose. Hey there, Joel.
JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hey, Audie.
CORNISH: So the number we heard from the Trump administration is roughly 900 parents who cannot be reunited with their children by tomorrow. What are the reasons they gave?
ROSE: Well, the government says it has good reasons not to reunite some of these families. For example, about 60 parents have criminal records according to the Trump administration. But the biggest share - 463 parents as of yesterday - cannot be reunited because they're already out of the U.S., either because they were deported without their children or decided to leave voluntarily and go home mostly to Central America. And another 127 parents agreed to waive reunification with their children, according, again, to the Trump administration.
CORNISH: Why would parents sign these waivers or decide to leave the country without their children?
ROSE: Well, the government says this was done voluntarily. The parents might've decided to leave their kids in the U.S. with a relative or in foster care. And that way the kids could be safe here in the U.S. and can try to get legal status on their own, but immigration lawyers are deeply suspicious of this explanation. They say immigration authorities near the border have been pressuring parents to sign papers that they simply do not understand.
CORNISH: Do you have some examples of that?
ROSE: I do. New court papers that were filed today by the American Civil Liberties Union do lay out some specifics. This is part of the ACLU's lawsuit challenging the Trump administration's family separation policy, and the new filing includes accounts from volunteer and nonprofit lawyers who talked to parents. And the parents told them they were confused and devastated about what had happened. In some cases, the ACLU alleges immigration authorities lied to parents and told them that they would be more quickly reunited with their children if they signed the papers. The ACLU says some of the parents didn't even speak English or are illiterate and just did not understand what they were signing. Here's ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt.
LEE GELERNT: We're talking about a life-altering decision - parents giving up their children. The least the government can do after these many months is give them a few days with attorneys to figure out what their options are.
ROSE: A lawyer for the government says the administration is working hard to comply with the judge's order and reunite all of the families who are eligible by tomorrow's deadline. But the government has also made clear that it does want to deport, quickly, many of these families who cross the border illegally.
CORNISH: What happens if the government doesn't reunify all these families by tomorrow? I mean, can the judge really do anything to enforce his order?
ROSE: Technically, the judge, Dana Sabraw, could impose sanctions, fines, contempt of court, maybe even jail time for top administration officials. But the legal experts I talked to say that is unlikely as long as the judge thinks that the government is making a sincere effort to reunite families. Here is James Pfander from Northwestern University.
JAMES PFANDER: Judges understand that they need the good-faith cooperation of agency officials in order to get these things done. So he may be a little reluctant to reach into his remedial toolkit with fines, threats of imprisonment and that sort of thing.
ROSE: Judge Sabraw says he does want to look at what to do with the roughly 900 parents who are not eligible for reunification right now, but only after tomorrow's deadline.
CORNISH: All right. I guess that means some parents who've been deported are facing even longer separations from their children, right? I mean, is it possible that some may never be reunited?
ROSE: It is possible, in a word. I mean, the government may be - will not be able to locate these parents. And some of the parents could decide that they want to leave their children here in the U.S. to pursue their asylum claims here. So, yeah, it's possible some of them may never be reunited.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Joel Rose. Joel, thank you.
ROSE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.