The federal government was falling far short Tuesday of meeting a court-ordered deadline to reunite young children with their families after being separated at the U.S. -Mexico border, prompting a federal judge in San Diego to remind attorneys that his deadlines are not "aspirational goals". It's unclear exactly how many older children must be reunited with their parents, but the Health and Human Services department has pegged the number at fewer than 3,000. As for the 64 children who remain in custody, the administration provided a list of excuses that includes reasons behind the failure to reunify 64 of the children, such as eight "parents had serious criminal history" or one "parent detained in ICE custody is now being treated for a communicable disease".
Earlier in June, President Trump signed an executive order rolling back family separations, a policy his own administration implemented.
"Their statement is vague at a minimum", said attorney Lee Gelernt, noting that a San Diego judge had set a deadline of Tuesday for reuniting those children.
"If in fact 57 children have been reunited because of the lawsuit, we could not be more happy for those families", he said. As of Sunday evening, however, the ACLU said the government was on track to reunite less than half of those with their families. In a press call later Tuesday, HHS officials and officials with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) suggested that there was nothing stopping those parents from consulting with consulate authorities to find their children.
On June 26, Sabraw set deadlines of Tuesday to reunite children under 5 with their families and July 26 for older children.
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. The father held up his wrist and told reporters that after they were separated, he threatened to use a razor on himself if he couldn't speak to his son. Some parents of the children have already been deported; others are still in criminal custody; others are undergoing background checks.
The Justice Department asked U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw for more time last week but the judge on Friday did not grant a blanket extension, saying only that he would consider certain exceptions. Administration lawyers said just four children had been reunited with their families, and 51 children were eligible for reunification with a parent.
The government said 24 children are now not eligible to be reunited with parents "due to circumstances of the adults in question", 11 of whom are in criminal custody with either the U.S. Marshals Service or state jails.
Thousands of babies, toddlers and older children were separated from their parents at the border this spring before Trump reversed course on June 20 amid an global outcry over the images of youngsters in chain-link cages and audio recordings of children crying.
The original suit sought to reunite a migrant mother and her daughter who had fled violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo and were separated at the southern border. "Can they at some point get their children back?" "Accordingly, by the end of the day we will decide what remedies to recommend to the court for the non-compliance", Gelernt said.
Sabraw on Tuesday told the government to stop fingerprinting and vetting every adult sharing a household with parents who'd been separated from their children, a new procedure that immigration advocates argue creates a disincentive for reunification - undocumented people are understandably wary of handing their fingerprints over to DHS, which houses Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Seven adults were determined not to be the parents of the child they entered with.