Published: Thu, July 12, 2018
Global | By Marsha Munoz

Judge holds firm on deadline for reuniting immigrant families

Judge holds firm on deadline for reuniting immigrant families

"It's extremely disappointing that the Trump administration looks like it will fail to reunite even half the children under 5 with their parent", said ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt.

Immigrant parents who reveled after joyful reunions with their young children spoke Wednesday of the traumatic impact of being separated from their sons and daughters for months after they were taken from them at the USA border.

In a statement, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said that 57 of the 103 children covered by the court case had been reunified, as of 7 a.m. ET (1100 GMT) on Thursday. They will be set free in the USA pending the outcome of their immigration cases, which can take several years.

Presenting parents with that harsh choice will prevent them from using court orders created to protect their children "to bootstrap a right to [their own] release", Department of Justice attorney Scott Stewart said in federal court Tuesday while discussing a separate order to reunite families.

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.

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The officials said 46 of the children were not eligible to be reunited with their parents; a dozen parents had already been deported and were being contacted by the administration. A spokesperson for the agency said it could not provide more details about what indication there is that this child and parent may be USA citizens, how the child came to be in federal custody or where the child is now sheltered.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday that by the end of the day, he expects 38 children will have been reunited with their parents.

ACLU lawyers have protested that federal officials were taking too long to find the parents who were deported and dragging out the vetting process of parents still in the United States by requiring home checks or DNA testing for adults who were clearly the children's parents. "I will never be separated from him, no matter what", said a tearful Javier, a 30-year-old from Honduras, who was reunited with his 4-year-old son after 55 days of detention. But only 56 out of about 85 children under five who are eligible for reunification will have been reunited with their parents by the Tuesday deadline.

"These are firm deadlines, not aspirational goals", the judge said.

U.S. President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Wednesday to blame the Democratic Party, among others, for not fixing immigration.

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"Judges run the system and illegals and traffickers know how it works". The father said he was still shaken by the ordeal he had to go through just to speak to his boy while he was in government custody.

Gelernt added that the child never should have landed in the custody of immigration officials. Physicians and others blasted the policy and warned about lasting psychological damage to children and parents.

"Our clients still have not been reunified!" said Beth Krause, an attorney with Legal Aid Society's Immigrant Youth Project, in an email to Reuters.

"This is hard, very hard", she said.

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.

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