The Trump administration on Thursday said all eligible children under 5 years old who were separated from their parents at a U.S. border crossing have been reunited, two days after a court-mandated deadline.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), 57 children out of 103 in HHS custody were reunified with their parents.
A federal judge in California previously ordered the government to return all children age 4 and younger to their parents by July 10.
“As of this morning, the initial reunifications were completed. Throughout the reunification process our goal has been the well-being of the children and returning them to a safe environment,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenEx-Trump official: 'No. 1 national security threat I've ever seen' is GOP Left-leaning group to track which companies hire former top Trump aides Rosenstein: Zero tolerance immigration policy 'never should have been proposed or implemented' MORE and Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsOvernight Hillicon Valley — Apple issues security update against spyware vulnerability Stanford professors ask DOJ to stop looking for Chinese spies at universities in US Overnight Energy & Environment — Democrats detail clean electricity program MORE said in a joint statement.
HHS said 46 other children were not eligible for reunification. Some of the parents haven’t cleared background checks, or they have criminal records, or they have been deported without their 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, Immigration and Customs Enforcement official Matthew Albence said the 12 adults who have already been deported had an opportunity to take their children with them, but declined. The Department of Homeland Security is attempting to contact those individuals, Albence said.
Government officials touted the screening process for parents, including background checks and DNA tests. According to HHS, the screening has saved children from being put in potentially dangerous situations, including with adults have charges or convictions for child cruelty, kidnapping, murder, human smuggling or domestic violence.
As the government scrambled to meet the Tuesday deadline, HHS faced criticism that the screening efforts were slowing down the reunification process.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which is representing the parents in a class-action lawsuit, said it was still deciding what to recommend to the court for the government’s missed deadline.
"If in fact 57 children have been reunited because of the lawsuit, we could not be more happy for those families,” Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said in a statement.
“But make no mistake about it: the government missed the deadline even for these 57 children. Accordingly, by the end of the day we will decide what remedies to recommend to the court for the non-compliance,” Gelernt said.
The administration faces a July 26 deadline to reunite children ages 5 to 17. HHS said they will be updating the ACLU later today on the exact number of those children they have in custody.
HHS has previously said there are “under 3,000” such children.