Last month a federal judge ordered the Trump administration to reunite families separated at the US-Mexico border, setting a deadline of two weeks for children under the age of 5 and 30 days for all children separated from their parents.
On Tuesday, that deadline came and went, yet dozens of toddlers in federal custody have not been reunited with their families.
Just four of the 102 detained children under five had been reunited with their parents as of Tuesday morning, and as the deadline approached, officials and nonprofits sprinted to put families back together. The government set a goal of returning up to 34 more children by the end of Tuesday, but whether or not they were able to do so has yet to be confirmed.
However, even if authorities succeeded in raising the total number of reunited children to 38 by Tuesday’s end, the figure still falls well below the 54 children the government had said it would return to their families by the deadline, CNN reported.
Many of these children have been detained for weeks, even months, in centers far from their parents. And for some families reunited on Tuesday, what should have been a happy occasion turned bittersweet as children who hadn’t seen their parents in months cried for social workers from the arms of their unfamiliar parents, The New York Times reported.
Government agencies have attributed the delay in reuniting families to safety concerns.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) “could have transferred every child in HHS care to a parent if we did not take into account child safety," HHS Chief of Staff Chris Meekins told the press on Tuesday. However, Judge Dana Sabraw, who ordered the reunification of families noted that it is the government’s obligation to reunite families and that authorities should not impose unnecessary requirements for parents to prove they are “good sponsors” for their own children.
"What the government has to look to is whether the parent is unfit or a danger," Sabraw said on Tuesday.
Juan and his 3yo daughter Gricelda were reunited today. But some children under 5 will remain separated from their parents — some permanently — despite the court’s order.— Taylor Dolven (@taydolven) July 10, 2018
Story w/ @christianna_j@ahylton26@bellecushing@GabriellaPezzo@g_bluestonehttps://t.co/a0ON2dXKJ3pic.twitter.com/XsbdWx8h35
At least 14 children will not be reunited with their parents — who either failed background checks, were determined not to be the children’s parents, or were the subject of valid abuse claims — CBS reported. And more than a dozen more children are not eligible to be reunited with their parents for various reasons.
In total, more than 2,300 children were separated from their parents at the US-Mexico border due to the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy on prosecuting illegal immigration, sparking public outrage. Though the “zero tolerance” policy, which led to the practice of separating families, technically remains in place, it is no longer being enforced due to capacity constraints.
President Donald Trump signed an executive order on June 20 reversing his administration’s policy, calling, instead, for authorities to stop separating families. However, the order proposed that migrant families be held in custody together — which US detention facilities and border agencies do not have the physical space or resources to do.
The order also called on the US District Court for the Central District of California to modify the Flores settlement — a legal 1997 agreement that established limits on how long immigrant children can be detained — which the court declined to do on Monday.
The children being reunited with their families are being released from HHS custody to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) — the agency overseeing detention centers for adult migrants — which in turn will release parents reunited with the children. Parents are fitted with ankle monitors to ensure that they attend scheduled court hearings on their immigration statuses, according to ICE officials.
After 3 months a dad and son finally reunited today in Michigan after separated at the border. The ACLU will keep fighting to reunite families cruelly punished for seeking a better life. #Keepfamiliestogetherpic.twitter.com/nrakwmHYx8— Kary Moss (@KaryMoss) July 10, 2018
Of the 102 children under the age of five still in government custody, the administration expects to reunite 75 children with their parents, some of whom were already deported without their children.
That’s still a small percentage of the total number of children separated from their parents at the border in recent months. The administration now has just 15 days left to reunite hundreds more migrant children with their families to meet the court-imposed deadline.