Less than half of the young children who remained in government custody over the weekend after being separated from their parents at the border will return to their families by Tuesday, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). That means the Trump administration will miss the first court-ordered deadline to reunite separated families, keeping dozens of children under the age of 5 in government detention centers.
“It’s extremely disappointing that the Trump administration looks like it will fail to reunite even half the children under 5 with their parents," said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, in a statement released on Sunday. "These kids have already suffered so much because of this policy, and every extra day apart just adds to that pain."
District Judge Dana Sabraw gave the government 14 days to reunite children under the age of 5 with their parents on June 26, and later asked for a list of names of the children impacted by the initial order. The ACLU said in the same statement that the list consisted of 102 names — less than half of whom would be reunited by the July 10 deadline. The deadline to reunify parents with their children age 5 and older is July 26.
The government said in court on Monday that at least 54 of the 102 young children will be reunited on Tuesday. But the Justice Department (DOJ) told the court on Friday that it might need more time to locate parents who are no longer detained, CNN reports. This includes 19 parents who were already deported.
Sabraw did not extend the deadline, but asked for the list of names along with the specific reasons why officials needed more time for individual cases.
"If we're not aware of where the parent is, I can't commit to saying that reunification will occur before the deadline," DOJ attorney Sarah Fabian said in court Friday, as reported by CNN. "We're still determining what the situation is there, and whether those are situations where reunifications may not be able to occur within the time frame."
When the court reconvened on Monday, the ACLU aimed to get more specific deadlines that would apply to different scenarios, according to Vox reporter Dara Lind. The ACLU has not announced what legal action, if any, it plans to take in response to the Trump administration missing the first deadline, but the organization reportedly told the judge on Monday that it was unclear how much effort the administration was putting toward locating the parents.
In fact, many records needed to identify detained children's parents have disappeared, two Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials told The New York Times last week. In some cases, the officials said, the records were destroyed. Katie Waldman, a spokeswoman for DHS, denied this.
“Not only is it categorically false that DHS destroyed records, but the opposite is true: DHS personnel has worked hand-in-hand with HHS personnel to share clear data in the most useful formats possible for HHS – which included names, dates of apprehension, and identifying alien numbers for both children and parents who were separated as a result of zero-tolerance,” Waldman said in a statement to The Times.
Even so, the government admits that it's struggling to locate all the parents of children who were detained after illegally crossing the border. Nearly 3,000 children total who were separated from their families remain in government custody, HHS Secretary Alex Azar confirmed on Thursday.
Azar told reporters that HHS is working to confirm that those claiming to be detained children's parents are actually their parents, "then we will comply with the court's order and reunify them." He added, "We have not sent children into ICE custody yet, pursuant to the court's order, but we will do so as we approach the court's deadline."