Trump Administration Will Not Meet Deadline for Reuniting Young Children
Jul 11 2018
The lead-up to the Monday court appointment indicated the duress the Trump administration is now under in trying to swiftly reunite the families it has separated - and just how messy the situation has gotten.
The reunited families will then be released and allowed to stay in the United States pending further immigration proceedings - the exact opposite of what President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions had hoped to accomplish when they launched the "zero tolerance" effort in May.
After the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the Trump administration to speed up the reunification process in late June, a federal judge ordered the administration to reunite families who had been broken up at the border within 30 days, or 14 days for those with children under the age of 5.
The administration was ordered to share a list of the 102 children under age 5 with the ACLU by Saturday afternoon. On Monday, Justice Department attorney Sarah Fabian told a federal court in San Diego that at least 54 children - and as many as 59 - will be reunited with their families in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
US District Judge Dolly Gee said the government had failed to present new evidence to support revising a court order that limits the detention of children who crossed the border illegally.
"It's extremely disappointing the government will not be in full compliance with the court order, but the judge has stepped in to manage this mess of the administration's making", Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project, said in a statement. "Delayed reunification, especially for babies and toddlers, is not in the best interests of the child". Those "impediments" included deportation of a parent or "safety and suitability screenings" that were ongoing.
For the parents and children who have been brought back together, thecelebrations may be short-lived.
Numerous separated children are fleeing violence in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, and U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen met with diplomats from those countries in Guatemala on Tuesday to discuss U.S. immigration policies. The government will not place children with adults without completing these checks.
In Tuesday's filing, administration lawyers stated that a remaining 27 children were not eligible for reunification with a parent and were therefore not subject to the court-mandated reunification deadline.
Some lawyers representing the separated children, who have been scattered into foster systems across the country, said the government was not telling them what would happen to their young clients. They come amid a tide of national and global outrage over such young children being taken from their parents.
In total, an estimated 3,000 children were separated from their parents as a result of Trump's so-called "zero tolerance" policy.
Under normal circumstances the government said it would perform extensive checks on all those in the household where an illegal immigrant child being released from federal custody would end up.
Four have parents who are in state criminal custody. The family reunification order doesn't guarantee it either. But he said those who remain split from their parents are "in for a long process". "It's all confusing to them why there's so many people here and why there's so many strangers here, but they know that they're safe", Valdes said outside the ICE offices. "If those [parents] submitted birth certificates...[we] suggest those kids be released".
Administration officials didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. They don't have to prove they will be a good sponsor.
Amid enormous backlash and global outcry, Trump reversed course on 20 June and said families should remain together until the parents' immigration proceedings are complete, a process that can take months.