The administration of US President Donald Trump on Thursday said that all eligible small children who were separated from their families as a result of its zero-tolerance immigration policy have been reunited with their parents.
However, nearly half of the children under five remain apart from their families because of safety concerns, the deportation of their parents and other issues, it added.
The administration was under a court mandate to reunite families separated between early May and June 20, when Trump signed an executive order that stopped separations.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit on behalf of a woman who had been separated from her child, and US District Court Judge Dana Sabraw ordered all children reunited with their parents.
Fifty-seven children were reunited with their parents as of Thursday morning, administration officials said.
“Throughout the reunification process, our goal has been the well-being of the children and returning them to a safe environment,” a statement from the heads of the three agencies responsible for the process said. “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.”
Most of the reunions occurred by Tuesday’s court-ordered deadline, but the government acknowledged in a court filing that 19 occurred on Wednesday and one on Thursday.
The ACLU proposed in a court filing that the administration should be monitored closely as a July 26 deadline approaches to reunite more than 2,000 children who are five and older with their parents.
It asked the judge to require that all parental relations be verified and all background checks be completed by Thursday next week. It also wants a daily report on how many families are reunited, starting on Tuesday.
The ACLU also proposed that the administration be given no more than a week to reunite 12 young children with their now-deported parents, from whom they were separated at the border. The clock would start ticking as soon as the parent obtains travel documents for the child.
“There is no excuse for the Trump administration’s missed deadline,” ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt said. “Children are suffering because of it. The government must get these families back together.”
The administration said in its filing that it is difficult to determine how much time is needed and that reunifications should occur “on a flexible schedule.”
Both sides were due back in court yesterday to expand on their proposals. It was to be the fourth hearing in eight days, an indication of how closely the judge is watching his deadlines.
The US officials said that 46 of the children were not eligible to be reunited with their parents, a dozen parents had already been deported and were being contacted by the administration, nine were in custody of the US Marshals Service for other offenses and one adult’s location was unknown.
Of the deported parents, officials said they had chosen to leave their children behind, but one deported father earlier this week told the Los Angeles Times that he did not realize what he was doing when he signed the paperwork to leave his child behind.
In 22 other cases, adults posed safety concerns, they said.
Officials said that 11 adults had serious criminal histories, including child cruelty, murder or human smuggling; seven were not determined to be a parent; one had a false birth certificate; one had allegedly abused the child; and another planned to house the child with an adult charged with sexually abusing a child.
“The seriousness of the crimes is the reason why we are not going to reunite them,” US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Executive Associate Director Matthew Albence said of the 22 cases.
The 46 children are to remain in the care of the US Health and Human Services, which would continue to seek to place them with a sponsor, such as another family member or even foster care, as it does for the more than 10,000 other minors who arrived in the US without a relative.
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