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When immigration authorities separated families at the Southwest border this summer, they said they were trying to discourage more migrants from making the trek north. The Trump administration abandoned the family separation policy after an international outcry. Now, under an agreement announced yesterday, some of those families may get a second chance to stay in this country. NPR's Joel Rose reports.
JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: The Trump administration separated more than 2,500 children from their parents before dropping its family separation policy. Many of those parents brought their kids from Central America in hopes of getting asylum in the U.S., but advocates say they didn't get a fair hearing.
LEE GELERNT: They were just simply too traumatized when they had their asylum hearings that all they were - they were doing is worrying about their children. Are my children sleeping, eating, being taken care of?
ROSE: Lee Gelernt is the deputy director of the ACLU's Immigrants Rights Project. He sued the government over family separation and won a court order that forced the government to reunite the families. But Gelernt says that isn't enough. Now he's hammered out an agreement with the Department of Justice that he says will give about a thousand parents a second chance.
GELERNT: It will give them another shot at seeking asylum. That's critical because we don't feel like these separated families have had proper asylum proceedings up till this point.
ROSE: Under the agreement, parents who are facing deportation will be allowed to make their asylum claims first. And hundreds of parents who've already been deported may get a chance too if they were coerced or misled into giving up their right to seek asylum. The Department of Justice declined to comment on the agreement, but Attorney General Jeff Sessions is still defending the administration's zero-tolerance policy against illegal border crossings. Here's Sessions on Monday...
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JEFF SESSIONS: Of course our goal is not just to prosecute more cases but to deter and end the illegality, to reduce the number of people who attempt to enter unlawfully, to send a clear message it's not acceptable.
ROSE: The administration has stopped slapping parents arriving at the border with criminal charges that could land them in federal lockup without their kids. But immigration authorities are still seeking to deport migrant families through civil proceedings. The proposed agreement still requires approval from the federal judge in California who's overseeing the ACLU's lawsuit. It's expected to be on the agenda at a hearing later today.
Joel Rose, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.