The Trump administration will not be meeting a court-imposed Tuesday deadline to reunify roughly 100 children under five with their parents, who it separated as part of its “zero tolerance” immigration policy.
In a hearing on Monday, a Department of Justice (DOJ) attorney said it had only reunited two children under the age of 5 with their parents so far. It expects to reunite another 59 on Tuesday, though officials are still awaiting more information on five of the parents so the number is likely 54.
A San Diego federal judge initially told the Trump administration to reunite all children under five by July 10 and all the rest by July 26. The judge held off on giving the government an extension and will wait on further information provided to him and the ACLU when they reconvene on Tuesday. However, it’s unlikely the federal government will be accused of contempt of court for ignoring the order.
The reunification process so far has been chaotic. The government admitted last week it didn’t know how many children it separated from their parents, but suspects no more than 3,000 children. Officials said they hadn’t thoroughly documented which child belongs to which parent and as such had to swab the cheeks of children in the custody of Health and Human Services (HHS) and parents in the custody of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to confirm biological relationships through DNA testing.
Federal officials have largely been playing catch-up since the California court called for immediate reunification. On Monday, District Judge Dana Sabraw said he is happy with the progress made so far.
“I am very encouraged with the progress,” said Sabraw, adding that it’s clear that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who is representing separated families, and federal officials are meeting and conferring. “I’m optimistic that many of these families will be reunited tomorrow.”
When the judge asked the ACLU lawyer what he thought of the process thus far, he replied the government has made “significant steps” but has not fully complied with the court order.
For those who aren’t going to be reunited on Tuesday, the government was able to detail why on Monday, but the numbers didn’t always add up. For example, the government said it deported nine parents and so cannot reunite these families by Tuesday. The ACLU contested this number, saying they know of as many as 12 parents who have been deported. Officials also weren’t able to identify the whereabouts of another kid’s parent.
Figures provided by DOJ in court on reunification of kids under age 5: pic.twitter.com/MSH0y0R6fQ
— Elise Foley (@elisefoley) July 9, 2018
The DOJ lawyer had previously stated it was looking to reunite all 102 children under five with their parents. On Monday, the DOJ clarified that likely only 96 will be reunited, as three parents have a criminal history that makes them unsuitable and three turned out not to be the parent of the children. Advocates on the ground told the ACLU that they are aware of ten children who should be on the DOJ list of separated kids but aren’t, said the ACLU lawyer. ACLU is still trying to confirm this so the DOJ can look into it.
All 54 parents who will likely be reunited with their kids Tuesday are in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody. Again, officials are vetting five other parents in ICE so as many as 59 could be reunified on Tuesday. When the judge asked if families were going to be released or detained together in a family residential center, the DOJ lawyer said parents have for the most part been moved to an ICE detention center close to their children, who are in an HHS-contracted facility. ICE will then assume custody of the kids, and they’ll be released together.
For this, the ACLU asked that, for example, verified church groups they work with could learn the whereabouts of the families as to connect them because parents will have no money and will likely need help as they are being moved around a lot and might not know where they are.