The Trump administration claims it will meet a court-imposed deadline Thursday night to reunite 1,637 parents with their children, after they were separated at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The number of families, however, represents only a small group deemed eligible for reunification by the federal government, and does not include all of the 2,551 children between the ages of 5 and 17 who were separated from their parents.
California U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw told government lawyers previously that they had until midnight on July 26 to reunite all eligible parents with their children. Government lawyers responded by saying it was unlikely all of the 2,551 separated children currently under the Trump administration’s care would be matched up with their parents by that time.
On Thursday evening, the lawyers claimed they had complied with the judge’s order on a technicality, and that they were on track to reunite all those “eligible” under the government’s plan. In a court filing, they stated they had already “discharged” and reunited 1,442 children in ICE custody with their parents.
“These numbers are expected to change, as more reunifications or discharges may occur by the end of the day […],” they wrote in a footnote, stating the filing reflected figures compiled by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) at 6 a.m. Eastern Time Thursday morning.
“It will take additional time for data sets to be updated reflecting all discharges […],” they added.
According to the filing, an additional 378 children were “discharged in other appropriate circumstances,” including “reunifications with parents in the interior,” and “discharges to other sponsors.” Government lawyers said 20 children were found not to have been separated from their parents by Homeland Security officials.
However, 711 children currently in ORR custody will remain separated from their parents.
Of those children, government lawyers wrote, 120 remained separated because their parents had “waived” their rights for reunification. Parents of 79 children had been “released to the interior,” and 94 remained separated because the “adult location [was] under case file review.”
In total, at least 431 parents have already been deported without their children.
“Plaintiffs have started attempting to locate these  parents,” the court filing stated. “…If there are special circumstances that make reunification impossible, [the administration] should raise them with Plaintiffs.”
As immigrant parents have recounted to attorneys, many claim they were misinformed or coerced into “waiving” their rights in order to be reunited with their children.
In one case, a father from Guatemala was asked if he would want to be deported by himself or with his daughter. He chose to sign the document, as officials told him it was the only way his daughter would be able to stay in the United States.
“He told me it is not safe for his daughter to return to Guatemala due to extreme and specific threats from a powerful and dangerous man who has demanded to ‘buy’ her,” the man’s attorney, Sofia Reive, told Buzzfeed News. “He signed the document because he felt pressured to do so and because he felt like he had no other choice. This entire interaction lasted approximately one minute.”
According to the ACLU, which is representing the parents, at least 120 parents orally waived reunification while 85 parents signed deportation waivers.
As Talking Points Memo notes, on a press call Thursday night, administration officials were adamant the parents who had signed the waivers knew what they were doing.
“They had the opportunity for reunification prior to removal and they declined that opportunity,” Matthew Albence, executive associate director of ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations department told reporters. “These parents who paid smugglers $5,000, $6,000 dollars to get their children here, and who made the very dangerous journey across Central America and Mexico, they’re not going to give up a chance for their child to remain here, so they frequently decline to have that child removed with them.”
The ACLU asked Judge Sabraw last week to consider requiring the federal government to wait to deport parents until seven days after they have been reunited with their children. The organization argued that anything less wasn’t enough time for the family to decide which option was best: fighting for their case in U.S. detention, or returning to the dangerous conditions from which they had fled.
The 431 deported parents represent a larger population of the 711 parents deemed “ineligible” to be reunified with their children on Thursday. Government lawyers say the remaining parents have criminal histories that disqualify them from reunification. They are also at risk of deportation.
The ACLU plans to help reunite families deported without their children, a complicated undertaking the organization is handling one case at a time.
“It’s not going to be easy. We are going to do the do the best we can,” Lee Gelernt, lead attorney for the ACLU, said during a call with reporters Thursday. “I suspect an it’ll be an enormous task.”
According to the organization, the government has not laid out any concrete plans of its own to reunite the families.
Both the ACLU and the administration’s lawyers are due back in court Friday afternoon to determine whether the court-mandated midnight deadline was, in fact, met.
This article has been updated with the most recent figures on parental deportations.