SAN DIEGO (CNS and KGTV) - A federal judge in San Diego heard an update Friday on the government's effort to reunite young immigrant children who were taken from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border, with federal officials claiming they've completed the process but the ACLU accusing the government of failing to do so.
U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw had ordered the federal government to reunite immigrant children under the age of five with their parents by Tuesday, but the government failed to meet that deadline, citing various logistical and procedural issues.
On Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen issued a statement claiming they had completed the process of reviewing the cases of 103 children under five in custody of the Department of Health and Human Services.
As of Thursday morning, they claimed to have reunited 57 children under five with their parents, while the other 46 were determined to be ineligible for immediate reunification. Of those 46, 22 children were determined to be ineligible for reunification due to safety concerns posed by the parents in question, while the others could not be returned because their parents had already been deported, some in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service for other offenses, two being held in state jails and one whose location hasn't been known for more than a year.
"Throughout the reunification process our goal has been the well-being of the children and returning them to a safe environment," Sessions and Nielsen said in a joint statement. "Our agencies' careful vetting procedures helped prevent the reunification of children with an alleged murderer, an adult convicted of child cruelty and adults determined not to be the parent of the child.
"Of course, there remains a tremendous amount of hard work and similar obstacles facing our teams in reuniting the remaining families," they said. "The Trump administration does not approach this mission lightly, and we intend to continue our good faith efforts to reunify families."
The American Civil Liberties Union, however, accused the Trump administration of failing to meet the deadline and failing to follow through on its vow to notify the ACLU of the time and place of each reunification so the organization could verify them.
"Not only did the government fail to give notice, we heard reports of troubling situations, including ICE leaving a parent and kids, one of whom is 6 months old, alone at a bus stop," according to the ACLU. "The government's lack of communication caused hardship for families who have been through enough."
ACLU attorneys asked that the government be ordered to provide a complete list of all children aged five and older by Monday; complete all background checks and parental verifications by July 19; provide daily reports with the number of completed reunifications; provide advance notice of the time and location of reunifications; offer immediate access to a lawyer for families reunited in detention facilities; and establish a fund for mental health counseling for children who were separated from their families.
It will also ask the government to reimburse families "for reunification travel costs and DNA tests."
Sabraw, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, has given the government a July 26 deadline for reuniting all detained children with their families, regardless of age. Federal officials estimated at one point that as many as 3,000 children were in federal custody.
In court Tuesday, Sabraw told government attorneys that the dates he has set are "firm deadlines, not aspirational goals."
On Monday, a federal judge in Los Angeles rejected a request by the U.S. Department of Justice to amend a decades-old court settlement that limits the amount of time immigrant children can be held in federal custody. That thwarted a government plan to detain children with their families while criminal proceedings were pending.
Federal officials told reporters Tuesday that immigrant parents being reunited with their children are instead being outfitted with ankle monitors and released from custody.