A federal judge on Tuesday pressed the Trump administration to reunify dozens of separated migrant children under age 5 by the end of the day or shortly thereafter.
U.S. District Court Judge Dana Sabraw called on the administration to join 59 separated children in that age group with their parents “today or within the immediate proximity of today.”
“These are firm deadlines,” Sabraw said during a court hearing in San Diego. “They are not aspirational goals.”
The Trump administration maintains custody of 102 children under 5 who were separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Of those, 59 children are eligible to reunite with their parents, the Justice Department said in a Tuesday court filing. Thirty-four parents cleared background and parentage checks, and another 25 parents had checks pending.
Four children have been reunited with parents already. Another 12 arrived at the border with parents who have been deported, but also could be eligible for reunification.
Sabraw acknowledged Tuesday that connecting children with deported parents will be complicated, but said “they are part of the class and they do deserve to be reunited.”
The reunification deadline represents only the beginning of what could be an arduous task of tracking down migrant parents and children who were forcibly separated when they were caught at the border. Under President Donald Trump’s “zero-tolerance” border strategy, thousands of minors were split apart from adults, who then faced misdemeanor illegal entry charges.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar estimated in late June that as many as 3,000 minors in his department‘s custody may have been separated from a parent at the border. Under an order from Sabraw, those children who are 5 or older must be joined with their parents by a July 26 deadline.
When Sebraw’s first deadline arrived Tuesday — to reunite kids under age 5 — the administration appeared poised to reconnect only a few dozen children.
The Justice Department said 34 parents cleared a criminal background check and had parentage verified through a DNA test.
DOJ attorney Sarah Fabian told Sabraw on Tuesday the government still awaited the results of DNA tests for 16 parents — a delay Sabraw said was unacceptable.
“This is not an invitation for them to take time doing the swab,” he said. “They can do it and they can do it quickly.”
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SOURCE: Politico, Ted Hesson and Dan Diamond