The Trump administration said Thursday it had reunited the bulk of the youngest migrant children separated from their parents at the border but dozens still remain ineligible for reunification.
The reunions — ordered nationwide last month by a federal judge in San Diego — have come in piecemeal tranches this week, as the government has scrambled to pinpoint the children eligible for return to their parents.
Joint statements from the Department of Health and Human Services, Justice Department and Homeland Security said that 57 children had been reunified with their parents as of early Thursday morning, but 46 were ineligible under “court-approved criteria.”
US District Judge Dana Sabraw originally ordered all children under 5 reunited by July 10. The government initially identified 102 children who fell in that category, but the number has fluctuated in recent days, as Sabraw’s order has essentially functioned as a judicially mandated audit of the morass of systems used by different federal agencies.
The Justice Department told Sabraw on Tuesday officials had found that some parents were unfit for reunification because they had criminal histories, some had already been deported and still others had not yet been located. The administration uncovered one case in which the “parent’s location has been unknown for more than a year,” according to a recent court filing.
Thursday’s statement from federal agencies said that 12 adults had been deported and “are being contacted.” They may be reunited with children once they are located and contacted.
The judge has acknowledged in court Tuesday that after further investigation some parents may not fall within the class of those eligible for reunification with children at this point, but he reiterated to the Justice Department that the timetables he had ordered for reunifying families were “firm deadlines, not aspirational goals.”
As a result, he told the Trump administration, he expected that 63 children in total would be reunited with parents by Tuesday’s deadline, a number that includes four who had been reunited beforehand.
CNN has reached out to the agencies to ascertain why only 57 children were reported reunified as of Thursday morning when the judge ordered 63. The numbers in the release indicated more issues came up during the final background checks and family tests, including new criminal records, failed DNA tests and a documents issue.
Whether the American Civil Liberties Union, which had filed the lawsuit against the administration over separated migrant families, will raise concerns about any individual outstanding cases before the next court hearing Friday remains to be seen. But thus far, the ACLU has not asked the judge for anything other than to keep the government on a tight leash with regular hearings and deadlines.
The looming and perhaps more significant question is how the administration will handle the much larger group of children 5 and older who are required to be reunited by July 26.
On that front, the judge has noted “there is a lot of work to do” on the older group of children and has ordered the Justice Department to provide an update Thursday on how many need to be reunited with parents.