Government set to reunite 34 separated children with parents
U.S. officials will not be able to reunite all 102 children under 5 years old who have been separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, government lawyers said Tuesday.
According to Justice Department (DOJ) attorneys, a total of 75 of the 102 children in custody of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) are eligible for reunification.
The administration has previously reunited four of the children, and DOJ attorneys said they expect to reunify 34 more by Tuesday’s deadline. Another 16 children will be reunified shortly, once the parents have been verified, federal officials said.
Federal officials said some parents were not eligible to be reunited with children either because they haven’t been verified, they have criminal records, or have otherwise been deemed unfit.
A federal judge had previously ordered the government to return all children age 4 and younger to their parents by Tuesday.
Federal agencies have been ordered to return children 5 and older by July 26. HHS has said there are “under 3,000” such children.
The Trump administration separated the families as part of its “zero tolerance” strategy to criminally prosecute all immigrants who cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally, including those who are seeking asylum.
In a call with reporters, a Health and Human Services official said the government is working as fast as it can to reunite children with their parents.
“HHS’s priority has always been the safety and well-being of children” in custody, said HHS’s Chris Meekins.
“Let me be clear: HHS could have transferred every child out of our care to a parent who is currently in DHS custody today if we did not take into account child safety or whether the adult is actually the parent,” Meekins said.
But the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the children’s parents in a class-action lawsuit, said it doesn’t believe the federal government is complying with the judge’s order and can’t independently verify the government’s numbers.
The DOJ also said officials at the U.S.-Mexico border may have taken the child of a U.S. citizen into custody.
The court filing said the government hasn’t been able to locate the child’s parents for more than a year.
“Records show the parent and child might be U.S. citizens,” the filing said.
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