Under the "zero-tolerance", policy, while parents entering the USA illegally were held for prosecution, children were placed in Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) facilities across the country.
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A federal judge in San Diego will receive an update Tuesday from the federal government and ACLU on the progress of reuniting children under age 5 who were separated from their parents at the U.S. -Mexico border under the Trump administration's "zero-tolerance" policy on illegal immigration. The rest of the children under 5 are expected to be reunited with their parents by July 26, attorneys said.
The two sides revealed in a filing late on Monday (Tuesday NZT) that they are far apart on protocols for reunification, with the government arguing its practices are necessary under federal law to ensure child safety and the ACLU contending that many are too cumbersome under the circumstances. The administration cited difficulties locating dozens of the youngest children's parents, including at least 19 who had already undergone deportation proceedings.
"Let me be clear: HHS could have transferred every child out of our care to a parent who is now in DHS custody today if we did not take into account child safety or whether the adult is actually the parent", HHS Chief of Staff Chris Meekins, told reporters. Another five families will likely be reunited after Tuesday, once the background check process is completed.
The filing noted 13 others now deemed ineligible for reunification, for reasons ranging from parents now in the custody of other criminal justice agencies to a parent who is being treated for a communicable disease, and one who lives in a home with another adult who has a criminal background. Fabian said another 12 have parents in state or federal prison. According to government attorneys, nine have parents who have already been deported, while an additional nine have parents that have been released from government custody in the United States.
The ACLU and others have blasted the Trump administration for shoddy record-keeping after they separated the families, saying the government apparently had no plan to eventually bring them back together.
It was the largest single effort to date to undo the effects of President Donald Trump's zero-tolerance policy of separating families who try to slip across the Mexican border into the country.
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About 40 other very young children will not be returned to their parents yet, despite a court-imposed deadline, because the Trump administration either has not finished matching them with their parents or has not cleared the parents to take custody. "Don't come to our country illegally", he said.
Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores had no comment on the discrepancies in the numbers.
Among the other remaining question marks is whether authorities can streamline their vetting process for the migrant parents - which ACLU attorneys have described as needlessly cumbersome - and whether the government can pass along the locations migrant families will be released from custody, so that charity groups can more quickly offer them support.
"Let me put it this way: I think the government in the last 48 hours ... has taken significant steps", Gelernt said.
"I believe that they can still reunite some [more] individuals by tomorrow", Gelernt said during the hearing.
US District Judge Dolly Gee said the government had failed to present new evidence to support revising a court order that limits the detention of children who crossed the border illegally.
Sacchetti reported from Washington and Perry reported from San Diego.