The aftermath of the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance immigration policy is continuing to cause some confusion among the officials tasked with reunifying families separated after illegally crossing America’s southern border.
According to The Washington Times, more than a 100 children under the age of 5 were separated under the policy imposed earlier this year.
Even as a judge’s deadline for reunifying those families loomed this week, the administration acknowledged that just 38 of those young children had been returned to a parent’s custody.
Sixteen other children were said to be near the end of the reunification process but their cases were still pending ahead of some final security checks. In most of those cases, officials were awaiting the results of DNA tests to confirm a parental relationship for individuals who had already passed a background check.
In at least one of the unresolved cases, a parent’s background check had not yet been completed.
U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw issued an order last month that the government must reunite the youngest children within 14 days. That deadline expired on Tuesday.
Children older than 5 were ordered to be reunited within 30 days of the order.
Federal authorities say they could not meet the earlier deadline due to a number of factors that made releasing the children into a parent’s custody unsafe or impossible.
In at least five cases, government records indicate an individual claiming to be a child’s parent was proven through DNA testing not to be.
Another eight adults were not reunited with their children because they were flagged for a serious criminal history including charges like murder and kidnapping. In these cases, officials determined that the parents were not fit to regain custody.
Sabraw addressed the government’s concerns in court on Tuesday and was unsympathetic for the excuses presented.
“These are firm deadlines,” he said. “They’re not aspirational goals.”
The judge told officials that they were still expected to abide by the previous ruling and that roadblocks along the way were not sufficient cause to delay family reunification.
A second deadline is approaching. Sabraw’s ruling mandates that children between 5 and 17 be returned to their parents’ custody by July 26.
Only a small fraction of the more than 2,000 children separated at the border fell into the youngest category impacted by Tuesday’s deadline.
Nevertheless, those 102 cases presented a host of concerns the federal government faces in attempting to reunite these families.
In addition to the issues described above, at least a dozen children under 5 arrived with parents who have since been deported.
Eight more parents were released into the United States and have not undergone complete safety checks, officials say.
Among the other unusual circumstances is one parent who has been missing for more than a year and who the government thinks could possibly be an American citizen, along with the child.
Health and Human Services official Chris Meekins defended the process by which federal agencies vet parents before reuniting them with their children.
“Our process may not be as quick as some would like but there is no question it is protecting children,” he said.
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