By Tom Hals
(Reuters) - A day after a court-ordered deadline for the U.S. government to reunite immigrant children and parents who had been separated by officials at the U.S.-Mexico border, rights activists will on Friday focus on helping families, together for the first time in weeks, facing deportation.
The parents and children were separated as part of U.S. President Donald Trump’s "zero tolerance" policy on illegal immigration. Many of them had crossed the border illegally, while others had sought asylum. By the time Trump ordered a halt to separations in June following weeks of outrage at home and abroad, about 2,500 children had been separated.
The U.S. government said this week that 900 face final orders of removal from the United States. The government said in a court filing on Thursday that it had reunited 1,442 children with their parents, although immigrant groups said the effort to meet a judge's deadline was sometimes chaotic.
Attorneys will likely address in a court hearing on Friday how to reunite 711 children still separated from parents. More than half of the parents of those children are no longer in the United States, according to the government, and rights groups have said they appear to have been deported without their children.
On Friday, the American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the lawsuit that led to a judge's reunification order, will argue in U.S. District Court in San Diego that families need a week after being reunited before being deported.
The rights group has said that parents need the time to consider their legal rights and those of their child, who the parent may decide to leave in the United States to separately pursue asylum.
"That’s a potentially life altering decision," said ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt on a call with reporters on Thursday.
Government officials have said that they already give parents time to consider their options, and that parents have been notified of their legal rights and given contact information for an attorney.
U.S. Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego ordered the government to reunite the children although his July 26 deadline did not apply to parents with a criminal background, or those who had been deported.
Many of those parents fled violence and persecution in their home country, usually El Salvador or Honduras, and may go into hiding when they return.
"Locating them will be a challenge," said Michelle Brané, director of migrant rights and justice for the Women’s Refugee Commission on a conference call with reporters.
(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Del.,; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Grant McCool)