Originally published by LA Times
With one week left under a federal judge’s deadline to reunify families separated at the border, the Trump administration on Thursday said 364 children age 5 and older have rejoined their parents.
That’s only a fraction of the 2,551 children in that age group who’ve been identified for possible reunification.
The government’s latest status report on the effort does not speculate on whether it will make the July 26 deadline, only saying that the new truncated process to match up families and clear parents for reunification “is proceeding.”
U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego, who is overseeing the reunification effort as part of a preliminary injunction he granted, has set a hearing for Friday afternoon to discuss the progress.
The families are being released into the community on parole rather than being detained together — the same as families of children younger than 5 who were reunited under an earlier deadline this month.
The families are being dropped off at the offices of local social service organizations, which are equipped to assist them with immediate basic needs such as transportation and clothing, according to the court filing.
Of the roughly 1,600 parents possibly eligible for reunification, 848 parents have been cleared, 272 are awaiting a final interview and others are still in the vetting process or are no longer in immigration custody and must be tracked down.
Authorities say they have identified 91 parents so far with a criminal record or other disqualifier that makes them ineligible for reunification. Additionally, more than 100 parents declined to be reunified with their children when asked during an interview.
Authorities cautioned that the numbers reflect reports as of midnight Wednesday and are unofficial.
The reunification process includes using official records, interviews or other observations to confirm the parent-child relationship, as well as background checks on the parents. DNA testing is being used in cases where there are red flags. Eligible parents currently in immigration custody are being moved to one of eight facilities where they undergo a final interview by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Children who are in shelters spread across the country are being brought to the facilities, joined with their parents, then released. Officials have not identified which facilities are being used.
Authorities say more than 700 parents have final orders of removal, but for now they remain in a holding pattern due to a Monday court order that prohibits the government from deporting newly reunited families.
The American Civil Liberties Union has asked for a seven-day period between family reunification and removal to give the parents time to consult with a child advocate or attorney to decide if the children have viable claims to contest their own immigration cases.
“These parents may only have a matter of days to make the momentous decision whether to leave their child behind in the United States,” ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt urged in Thursday’s joint briefing.
Sabraw had been reluctant to impose such an order earlier last week but changed his mind a few days later by granting a temporary injunction that halts removals.
The removal issue will be argued separately in a hearing on Monday.
The ACLU complained that the government has continued to fall behind in providing information on the parents who fall into the various categories of eligibility. The ACLU proposed deadlines spread over the next few days for authorities to provide lists of parents either released from ICE custody, deported or with final removal orders.
The massive reunification effort is tied to a class-action lawsuit filed by the ACLU in San Diego. The two named plaintiffs are women who claimed asylum at a port of entry and crossed the border illegally and had their children taken from them. Both families have since been reunited.
The government has been working to streamline its processes since its first efforts to reunite children under age 5 earlier this month.
The deadline of July 10 was not met in that instance, with some of the 57 children being reunited in the days that followed due to “logistical” reasons. Many other children were determined to have parents who were ineligible for various reasons, including criminal records. The ACLU is still working to help find the 12 parents in that age group who have already been deported.