Nearly half of youngest children not rejoining families - US

2018-07-13 15:09

The Trump administration said on Thursday all eligible small children who were separated from their families as a result of its zero-tolerance immigration policy have been reunited with their parents.

But nearly half of the children under 5 remain apart from their families because of safety concerns, the deportation of their parents and other issues, the administration said.

The administration was under a court mandate to reunite families separated between early May and June 20, when US President Donald Trump signed an executive order that stopped separations.

READ: US says all eligible youngest children, families reunited

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of a woman who had been separated from her child, and US District Court Judge Dana Sabraw ordered all children reunited with their parents.

Deadline

Fifty-seven children were reunited with their parents as of Thursday morning, administration officials said.

"Throughout the reunification process, our goal has been the well-being of the children and returning them to a safe environment," according to a statement from the heads of the three agencies responsible for the process.

"Of course, there remains a tremendous amount of hard work and similar obstacles facing our teams in reuniting the remaining families. The Trump administration does not approach this mission lightly."

Most of the reunions occurred by Tuesday's court-ordered deadline, but the government acknowledged in a court filing that 19 occurred on Wednesday and one on Thursday.

The ACLU proposed in a court filing that the administration should be monitored closely as a July 26 deadline approaches to reunite more than 2 000 children who are 5 and older with their parents.

It asked the judge to require that all parental relations be verified and all background checks be completed by next Thursday. It also wants a daily report on how many families are reunited, starting on Tuesday.

The ACLU also proposed that the administration be given no more than a week to reunite 12 young children with their now-deported parents, from whom they were separated at the border.

The clock would start ticking as soon as the parent obtains travel documents for the child.

"There is no excuse for the Trump administration's missed deadline," said ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt. "Children are suffering because of it. The government must get these families back together."

Judge watching closely

The administration said in its filing that it is difficult to determine how much time is needed and that reunifications should occur "on a flexible schedule".

Both sides are due back in court on Friday to expand on their proposals. It will be the fourth hearing in eight days, an indication of how closely the judge is watching his deadlines.

The US officials said 46 of the children were not eligible to be reunited with their parents; a dozen parents had already been deported and were being contacted by the administration. Nine were in custody of the US Marshals Service for other offences.

One adult's location was unknown, they said.

Of the deported parents, officials said they had chosen to leave their children behind.

One deported father, however, told the Los Angeles Times earlier this week that he didn't realise what he was doing when he signed the paperwork to leave his child behind. It wasn't clear if he was one of the dozen; no names have been made public.

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