The US government has only managed to reunite two of 102 migrant children under the age of five with their families after they were separated at the southern border, and has admitted it will not be able to meet a federal district judge’s deadline for them all to be reunited by Tuesday.
In a hearing on Monday, the Department of Justice told Judge Dana Sabraw that it expects to reunite another 54 children by tomorrow’s 10pm deadline, which would leave approximately 46 children separated.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which sued the government over family separations forcing Sabraw’s ruling, slammed the government for using a long, drawn-out administrative process that it said “makes no sense”.
“These kids have already suffered so much because of this policy,” said ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt. “Every extra day apart just adds to that pain.”
The government is using procedures from its process of reuniting unaccompanied minors, which the ACLU argues is not necessary because the children were not unaccompanied until the government separated them from their parents.
DoJ attorney Sarah Fabian said the government was still working to do background checks and confirm the relationships between the adults and children in its custody.
More than 2,000 children were forcibly separated from their parents at the Mexican border this spring under the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy on illegally entering the country. While parents were prosecuted, children were placed in the custody of the Health and Human Services Department in facilities dotted across the country.
Amid an international outcry, Donald Trump reversed course on 20 June and said families should remain together.
On 26 June, Sabraw set the government deadlines to reunite children under five, who are being held at so called “tender age shelters”, with their families by Tuesday. The government has until 26 July for older children. Sabraw, who was appointed by Republican president George W Bush, wrote that the “situation has reached a crisis level” and that the “chaotic circumstances” were of the government’s own making.
During the hearing the ACLU also accused the Trump administration of missing 10 children in its count of those in its custody aged newborn to five.
Sabraw denied a DoJ request for a blanket extension on Friday, but appears likely to grant short extensions for all the yet-to-be reunited children tomorrow when the ACLU and government return to court.
Sabraw said on Monday he was “very encouraged with the progress” made so far, and ordered the government to provide a list by 6pm PT with the most current status on each of the individual cases. Sabraw has asked the government for specific reasons for each failed reunification.
The DoJ argued there are a number of reasons for the delay. Some of the children were brought to the US by someone who is not their biological parent, for example, while others have parents with serious criminal records.
According to the DoJ, 12 of the children under five have parents either in local or federal criminal detention who must serve time before being transferred to the custody of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or Ice, a law enforcement agency within the Department of Homeland Security. Another 18 have parents who were lost by the administration after their deportation or released into the US.