A federal judge on Tuesday told the Trump administration to adhere to the deadline for reuniting children separated from their parents under the "zero tolerance" policy, even as officials have said they'll be unable to meet it.
The New York Times reported that U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw stuck to his Tuesday deadline for the youngest children to be returned to their parents, despite government officials indicating they’d be unable to meet the target.
“These are firm deadlines; they are not aspirational goals,” Sabraw said. “I would like the process to continue as expeditiously as it has been with paramount focus on the children’s welfare.”
Sabraw reportedly urged the government to ease up on the scrutiny applied to parents of separated children, compared to the usual amount applied to extended relatives who apply to look after unaccompanied minors who cross the border illegally.
The judge additionally asked for an update from the government on the reunification process by Thursday, Bloomberg reported.
Government lawyers said Tuesday that U.S. officials will only be able to reunite 75 of 102 children under the age of 5 in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The others are not eligible to be reunited because their parents have criminal records, haven’t been verified or have been otherwise ruled unfit.
So far, the government has reunited with their families four of the children in its custody. It expects to reunite another 34 by Tuesday’s deadline.
The court ordered separated children older than age 5 be reunited with their parents by July 26.
Thousands of migrant children were separated from their parents in recent weeks as a result of the Trump administration's zero tolerance policy.
Trump seemed to express indifference earlier Tuesday when asked about his administration's inability to meet the court-imposed deadline.
"Well, I have a solution. Tell people not to come to our country illegally. That's the solution," Trump told reporters on the White House lawn before departing for Belgium.
“I’m saying this: We have laws. We have borders," he added. "Don't come to our country illegally. It's not a good thing."