The same judge who ordered the Trump administration to reunite migrant families by the end of July refused a government request to move back the deadline, insisting that extra time can only be justified in specific cases.
U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw ordered the administration to share a list of 101 children with the American Civil Liberties Union over the weekend. The ACLU had successfully sued to force the reunifications.
The government and ACLU are expected to collaborate and determine which cases require an additional delay by Monday afternoon. While most migrant families should be back together by the month’s end, July 10th is the deadline for reuniting parents with children under the age of five.
Sabraw refused to accept excuses and rejected a plea from the Department of Health and Human Services for additional time.
“The government must reunite them,” Sabraw wrote Friday. “It must comply with the time frame unless there is an articulable reason.”
Each of the 101 children concerned are under the age of 5—meaning that Sabraw’s order should have brought them back to their families by Tuesday. Government officials asked for an extension on grounds that they needed the extra time to ensure everyone’s safety and verify parental relationships.
“There’s always going to be a tension between a fast release and a safe release,” argued Justice Department attorney Sarah Fabian.
Associated Press coverage indicates that “86 parents to 83 children” have been matched, with 16 still awaiting results.
More than 2,000 children were separated from their parents since Attorney General Jeff Sessions enacted a “zero-tolerance” approach toward illegal immigration in May. Under Sessions’ plan, every adult caught making an unauthorized border crossing would be detained and prosecuted in criminal court. Children were remanded while their parents were arraigned and facing conviction—a tactic which the attorney general suggested could serve as a deterrent to other would-be aliens.
Last Thursday, the HHS said fewer than 3,000 children are believed to be detained without their parents. That number includes minors who may have been separated from their mothers and fathers before crossing the border.
Department spokesman Jonathon White said Health and Human Services is working overtime to ensure compliance. Measures have included a manual review of all 11,800 children in the agency’s custody, as well as DNA tests to confirm parental relationships.
White cautioned the courts to show some patience, saying that swab test can take a week to be analyzed. Inconclusive results could pose a risk to children, he said, saying the accidental placement of children with unrelated, unknown adults is “a real and significant child welfare concern.”
“The Government does not wish to unnecessarily delay reunifications or burden class members,” read the rejected Justice Department filing. “At the same time, the Government has a strong interest in ensuring that any release of a child from Government custody occurs in a manner that ensures the safety of that child.”