57 of 103 children reunited with families after separation
Officials claim victory two days after missed deadline
Administration officials told a judge Thursday they had to cut corners and turned very young children over to adults without fully confirming they were related in the rush to meet this week’s courtordered deadline to reunite with family 103 juveniles separated by President Trump’s zero-tolerance border policy.
Even ignoring the full safety checks, only 57 of the 103 children under age 5 were able to be reunited with parents as of Thursday morning — two days after the deadline set by U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw.
The government says the other 46 adults seeking the children didn’t end up qualifying for getting them back, sometimes because officials proved they weren’t actually related or had major criminal records.
Judge Sabraw will render judgment Friday on whether the return of 57 was enough to meet his demands, but the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the parents in a major lawsuit, said they were deeply disappointed.
“Make no mistake about it: the government missed the deadline even for these 57 children,” said ACLU lawyer Lee Gelernt.
In each of the cases, the families were reunited and then quickly released from government custody out into the communities — a renewal of the catch-and-release policies Mr. Trump has said he wanted to end.
Homeland Security officials said the migrants are expected to check in and show up for eventual deportation, but acknowledged that may not happen in many of the cases as the migrants disappear into the shadows.
The ACLU had asked that the government provide the locations of the releases so charitable organizations would be on hand to help the families, who in many cases were being released in unfamiliar cities with no resources. The government had said it would do that — but didn’t follow through in any of the cases, the ACLU said.
They reported that one mother was reunited with her children, including a 6-month-old daughter, then dropped at a bus station and had to scramble to get bus fare.
The 103 children under age 5 were just a dress rehearsal for a much bigger problem looming for the government. Judge Sabraw has set July 26 as the deadline to reunite more than 2,000 other juveniles ages 5 to 17 who were separated in the weeks that the zero-tolerance policy was in full operation.
Government officials have declined to say how that process is going, but will have to provide an update to the court Friday.
Judge Sabraw this week ordered the government to cut corners on its usual reunification process, saying to only use DNA testing in rare cases to make sure adults really are the parents of the children they claim.
That will almost certainly mean that children will be turned over to imposters.
In seven of the cases of children under 5, adults who’d claimed to be parents had those claims disproved. In three cases, the threat of DNA testing was enough to get the adults to admit they weren’t actually parents.
“Eliminating any one of these steps will endanger the children,” said Chris Meekins, a high-ranking official at the Health and Human Services Department.
Of the 46 children who were part of the original target group but weren’t reunited, seven were the bogus parents. Another 11 parents had serious criminal records, including child cruelty and murder charges, that made them unfit. One other presented a false birth certificate for a child, and the government is trying to figure out parentage.
Another parent was a child abuser, one parent couldn’t take back the child because they were planning to live in a home with someone accused of child sex abuse, and one parent has a communicable disease that must be cleared up.
A dozen other parents were deported, 11 are in state or federal jails serving time, and the government can’t track down the whereabouts of another.
Children taken from their from parents are brought to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office building in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to be reunited with family Tuesday. More than 2,000 children were reportedly separated from after crossing the U.S. border.