Federal officials have been unable to provide precise numbers of separated children and parents to Sabraw, who is presiding over a class-action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the separated families. And for several weeks, administration officials have been under a court-ordered deadline: Reunite those young children with their parents, and do it quickly.
More than 2,000 children were forcibly separated from their parents at the Mexican border this spring under the Trump administration's "zero-tolerance" immigration policy on illegally entering the country.
In a last-ditch effort to secure more time, the government submitted a filing on Friday suggesting that it would need more days, admitting that the administration is struggling to find parents they have already deported. The ACLU would like a faster reunification process while the US government claims they are bound by strict protocols, such as a plan to DNA test every child and parent before a reunification can occur.
So far, the court has yet to change the reunification deadlines, which are set for July 10 for children under 5 and July 26 as the deadline for all children separated from their parents.
"I am encouraged by the progress", Judge Sabraw said.
During separation, parents were sent into federal custody while the children were taken by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and held at holding facilities often thousands of miles (kilometers) from their parents. Some of the children were brought to the USA by someone who is not their biological parent, for example, while others have parents with serious criminal records.
After the Justice Department asked for a blanket extension, Sabraw ordered the government to turn over a list of the minor children under 5 years old to the ACLU, which it did over the weekend. But they say they have to do cheek swabs of the children and the parents to do DNA tests to establish parentage. Puzzlingly, the administration had claimed on Friday that as many as 19 parents were deported, and argued that because they have been unable to make contact with them, they should not have to reunite them with their children under the court's injunction.
While all parties are aware the deadline will not be met, Judge Dana Sabraw is happy with the progress being made, saying from the bench, "This is real progress".
Additionally, Gelernt took issue with the Trump administration's claim that it has lost track both of parents who have been released by ICE within the USA pending their immigration or asylum hearings and at least nine parents who it deported without their children. He scheduled another hearing for Tuesday morning.
Six of the 102 children are not eligible for reunification because they have a parent with a criminal history or were separated from someone who is not their parent.
And why did the government say they can't meet the deadline?
As the ACLU and the Trump administration work together over the course of Monday and Tuesday to locate and reunite as many families as possible before the court's original Tuesday deadline, Gelernt demanded permission from the court to allow immigrant advocates and faith-based groups to know the location of these reunions.
54 will be reunified by Tuesday; their parents are still in government custody and will be released with their children.
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