The Trump administration, under court order to reunite children under age 5 with their parents after being forcibly separated at the border, told a judge Monday that it will only be able to reunify just over half of the families by Tuesday’s deadline.
Of the 102 young children identified by the government, two have been reunited with their parents and 54 are expected to be by Tuesday.
Those cases have been easier to accommodate because the parents are in immigration custody. Authorities have been moving those parents to detention facilities close to where their children are being sheltered.
By Tuesday the children will be brought to the parents in the detention facilities located around the country, and then the families will be released together on immigration parole into the community, said Sarah Fabian, an attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which requested the injunction as part of a lawsuit, is hoping to be notified of when and where the releases will take place so volunteers can respond with offers of assistance — from bus tickets to clothing to hotel rooms.
The families will then be able to pursue their immigration cases or asylum claims as a unit, with lawyers provided by the ACLU if needed.
The rest of the children fall under varying circumstances — at least nine have parents who have already been removed from the U.S., while others have parents who are still being vetted or still need to be located after being released into the U.S. from immigration custody.
Twelve children have parents who are in either state or federal criminal custody and won’t be able to be reunited at this time.
Three children were found to have crossed the border with parents who have criminal backgrounds that make them unfit to care for their children, while another three children crossed with adults who were found not to be their parents, Fabian said.
Authorities can’t find evidence of any parental records for one child, a 3-year-old boy.
“This is obviously of enormous concern to us,” ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt told reporters outside the courthouse.
The ACLU is also hearing reports from the field that as many as 10 other parents are claiming to have children under 5 taken from them who don’t appear on the list provided over the weekend by the government. The DOJ said it would investigate those cases.
The updated numbers were given during a court hearing in San Diego federal court Monday morning before U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw, who has been closely monitoring the government’s ability to comply with the order.
The judge is holding the government to the deadline while acknowledging that it will be impossible to reunite every child under 5 within the next day.
“I am very encouraged by the progress,” he told attorneys for both sides. “I’m optimistic that many of the families will be reunited” by Tuesday.
He has ordered the DOJ and the ACLU to continue to work together to locate parents who have been scattered around the U.S. and world to make the other reunifications happen quickly.
A major point of contention remains on how to reunite the 2,000 to 3,000 other children age 5 and up by the court’s July 26 deadline.
ACLU attorneys are hoping the government will adopt streamlined processes to make it happen while still protecting the safety of the children.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has been working under existing procedures under a federal law meant to protect kids from human trafficking that can take some time to complete. That includes using DNA cheek swabs to verify parental relationship, background checks to determine whether the parent has a criminal history that would make him or her a danger to the child, fingerprinting and a lengthy biographical questionnaire.
Gelernt said that process was designed to vet relatives other than parents who might care for children who crossed the border without a parent. He said using such a detailed process to reconnect a parent and child who crossed together is unnecessary and “makes little sense.”
The ACLU will ask the government for a similar list containing the names of all the older children identified for reunification.