U.S. government must reunite separated migrant families or face penalties: federal judge

July 11, 2018

By Globe and Mail |

The U.S. government must rapidly reunite 63 children under the age of five who were separated by immigration officials after crossing into the United States from Mexico, or face penalties, a judge said on Tuesday.

Judge Dana Sabraw in U.S. District Court in San Diego told government attorneys he would not extend deadlines he set two weeks ago for the Trump administration to reunite the children under five with their parents by Tuesday and 2,000 other children by July 26.

“These are firm deadlines. They are not aspirational goals,” Sabraw said.

The government had asked Sabraw to extend the deadlines because it needed time to test DNA to confirm family relationships, run background checks, find parents who were released from custody and review parental fitness.

“Our process may not be as quick as some would like, but there is no question that it is protecting children,” said Chris Meekins, an official with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which is responsible for the children’s care.

More than 2,300 children were separated from their parents after U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration began a “zero tolerance” policy in early May, seeking to prosecute all adults who crossed the border illegally. While parents are held in jail to await trial by a judge, children are moved into accommodation managed by an HHS agency.

Trump stopped separating families last month following public outrage and court challenges.

Around the country on Tuesday, social workers, lawyers and immigration advocates waited for information about the fate of children in their care. Some received welcome news.

Foster care placement provider Bethany Christian Services, which operates in Michigan and Maryland, said the seven children under five in its care had been reunited or had travel arrangements for reunification.

The judge asked the American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the lawsuit that led to his June 26 order, to file papers on Thursday suggesting remedies if the government had not reunited the 63 children by Tuesday “or within immediate proximity of today.”

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