The Trump administration announced that it has reunited 57 migrant children under the age of five with their parents as of Thursday morning, falling short of the original court-mandated deadline that they reunite roughly 100 children.
The practice of separating families at the U.S.-Mexico border stemmed from the administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy of criminally prosecuting asylum-seeking parents who come to the country between official ports of entry. Seven children were separated from their parents even when they sought asylum at an official port of entry or “legally.” The administration said it has separated as many as 3,000 children from their parents.
In a press release, officials said that of the 103 children — a number up by one (officials identified 102 separated kids on Tuesday) because a parent came forward hoping to reunite with their child — under five covered by the court case currently before a California federal judge, they reunited roughly half:
- 57 children have been reunified with their families as of 7 a.m. Eastern Time on Thursday.
- 46 children were acknowledged by the court to be ineligible or determined by the Trump administration by court-approved criteria to be ineligible for family reunification.
Officials were expected to miss the original, court-mandated July 10 deadline to reunite all children under 5 with their families. On Tuesday, Department of Justice (DOJ) lawyers told Judge Dana Sabraw they were unable to meet the target date for a host of reasons, such as having already deported parents without their children. For this, Sabraw told the Trump administration to reunite 63 families they’ve separated. He applied some leniency as officials were working expeditiously and with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which is representing migrant families in court.
In the press statement released Thursday morning, officials said they didn’t reunite 46 families for reasons listed below:
- 22 children couldn’t be reunited due to safety concerns posed by the adults:
- 11 adults have a criminal history (charges or convictions for child cruelty, kidnapping, murder, human smuggling, domestic violence, etc.).
- 7 adults were found not to be a parent.
- 1 adult falsified a birth certificate (parentage is being examined).
- 1 adult was alleged to have abused the kid.
- 1 adult had planned to house the kid with an adult charged with sexually abusing a child.
- 1 adult is currently being treated for a communicable disease.
- 24 children are not currently eligible for reunification due to other circumstances:
- 12 adults have been deported and are being contacted.
- 9 adults are in custody of the U.S. Marshals Service for other offenses.
- 2 adults are in custody of state jails for other offenses.
In a press call later Thursday morning, officials said parents who were deported had the opportunity to take their child with them pursuant to removal but didn’t. They are currently working with foreign consulates to see if parents want to be reunited in country of origin. The official added “[parents] have no lawful right to be here,” so they don’t need to return to the U.S. for reunification.
It’s unclear if families will ever be reunited if the parents have a criminal history. There was one parent who was charged for driving under the influence so couldn’t be reunited. It was not “a regular DUI,” one official said.
“Throughout the reunification process our goal has been the well-being of the children and returning them to a safe environment. Our agencies’ careful vetting procedures helped prevent the reunification of children with an alleged murderer, an adult convicted of child cruelty, and adults determined not to be the parent of the child,” said Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar in a statement earlier. HHS houses “unaccompanied” minors.
“Of course, there remains a tremendous amount of hard work and similar obstacles facing our teams in reuniting the remaining families. The Trump administration does not approach this mission lightly, and we intend to continue our good faith efforts to reunify families,” he added.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions didn’t comment directly on the fact that his “zero-tolerance policy” — which is reportedly paused for now — resulted in the break up and trauma of families, only adding that the immigration system is generous.
“The American immigration system is the most generous in the world, but we are a nation of laws and we intend to continue enforcing those laws,” said Sessions in a press statement. “Establishing the immigration system demanded of our political leaders by the American people for more than 30 years—one that serves the national interest—will allow our nation to further realize the foundation of freedom, safety, and prosperity we inherited from our Founders.”
Reunifying families has been a chaotic process thus far, as officials did not properly document the familial connections as they separated and detained families. So officials had to play catch up, swabbing the cheeks of the children in HHS custody and parents in DHS custody to make a DNA match and verify parentage.
Officials on a press call Thursday said they didn’t tell migrants to pay for DNA testing, as the Daily Beast reported.
“No members were required to pay for reunification process,” said one official, adding that the government assumed the entire cost of the reunification process. They declined to say how much DNA testing costs taxpayers when asked.
On Tuesday, the judge said officials should “streamline” the reunification process and not test every family, suggesting they rely on other documents like birth certificates. These parents aren’t applying to be sponsors as the administration rendered these children “unaccompanied.” Other migrant children in HHS custody are “unaccompanied” because they came to the U.S. without a parent.
DOJ and ACLU lawyers are going to meet with judge on Friday to go over next steps. The ACLU deputy director Lee Gelernt said in a statement Thursday, “we could not be more happy for these 57 children. But make no mistake about it: the government missed the deadline even for these 57 children … we will decide what remedies to recommend to the court for the non-compliance.”
ACLU says it's happy 57 children under 5 have been reunited so far per judge's order, but says the administration did not comply with the order, and they'll be recommending remedies to the court for that pic.twitter.com/jq5Qsd17SJ
— Zoe Tillman (@ZoeTillman) July 12, 2018
This story was updated to include information gathered from press call.