The U.S. government believes it is in compliance with a court-ordered Tuesday deadline to reunite immigrant children under 5 who were separated from their parents while crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, according to a court filing.
In a filing in U.S. federal court in San Diego on Tuesday, the government said 75 children were eligible to be reunited and 38 were likely to be back with a parent by the end of the day. The government said others would be reunited once the government determined parental fitness or eligibility to be reunited.
In other cases, it said it needed to make contact with a parent released from detention.
A judge in California two weeks ago had ordered U.S. border authorities to reunite separated families within 30 days. If the children were under the age of 5, reunification was to take place within 14 days, which was July 10.
U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw, an appointee of President George W. Bush, also issued a nationwide injunction on future family separations unless the parent was deemed unfit or didn’t want to be with the child.
DNA testing performed
Sabraw on Monday had ordered 102 children be reunited with adults by the first deadline. The Justice Department said it wouldn’t meet the deadline for variety of reasons, including that the parents of some of the youngsters have already been deported, but had pegged the expected number to be reunited at more than 50.
By Tuesday afternoon, just four had been reunited, with another 34 expected by end of the day. The administration said it had found eight parents with serious criminal histories, five adults who were found by DNA testing not to be parents of the children, and one case of credible child abuse.
“Our process may not be as quick as some would like but there is no question it is protecting children,” said Chris Meekins, a Health and Human Services Department official helping to direct the process.
Previous administrations often released families apprehended at the border to pursue their immigration claims while living freely in the United States. But Trump has vowed to end what he calls “catch and release.”
The administration publicly announced a zero-tolerance approach in April, but after widespread protests and condemnation from activists, the United Nations and even international heads of state, Trump signed an executive order on June 20 to stop the separations.
But the attempt to detain the families together indefinitely, much like a similar attempt by the Obama administration, has so far been blocked by the courts.
Los Angeles U.S. District Court Judge Dolly Gee on Monday dismissed as “dubious” and “unconvincing” the U.S. Justice Department’s proposal to modify a 1997 settlement known as the Flores Agreement, which says that children cannot be held in detention for long periods.