After blowing past a court-ordered deadline to reunify the youngest children separated from their parents at the border, the Trump administration Wednesday released its latest plan for resolving the crisis.
But the plan has raised further questions about the reunification process, and whether the administration can meet a separate deadline later this month to reunite older children, age 5 to 17, with their families.
The latest plan, rolled out this week after being outlined to U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw on Friday, comes after a confusing reunification process for the youngest migrants affected by the immigration policy changes. The government missed its July 10 deadline for reuniting children under 5 with their parents. Of the 103 children of tender age, 57 were reunited with their parents, with the rest deemed ineligible because investigations flagged adults for a criminal record or the parent was already deported, among other reasons.
The Trump administration has until July 26 to reunite the roughly 2,500 children older children who were separated from their parents under the “zero-tolerance” immigration policy established in May.
When asked Thursday about meeting that deadline to reunify the remaining separated minors, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, speaking at a security forum in Colorado, said “we will do our best, but we will not cut corners.”
The nine-page plan consisted of information the government put out in recent media calls and court filings. Here are some highlights:
- At least 2,551 minors age 5 to 17 are potentially eligible for reunification, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
- Not all of the children will ultimately be reunited with their families, Justice Department officials said. In some cases, “adults claiming parentage may not actually be the parents or may be unfit or a danger to the children,” the document said.The government flagged similar cases last week while working to reunite separated minors under age 5.
- The plan did not mention a court deadline of Thursday for the government to provide a list of parents in U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement detention who won’t be eligible for reunification.
- The plan lists five steps immigration officials are following to reunify families. They include a background check for adults and an in-person interview with the adult.
- After confirming their parentage, the plan calls for HHS to do an in-person interview of every eligible adult. If there are no red flags, the agency will move the adult’s child to a facility within six to 48 hours of the interview. The reunification will occur at that facility.
- The plan doesn’t specify where exactly these facilities are located. Nor is it immediately clear what will happen to families once they’re reunited.
- HHS and the Department of Homeland Security would incur all costs for transporting adults and children to an ICE location for reunification. This was a request from Sabraw, who last week issued an order that prevented the government from charging parents for DNA tests or flights to locations for reunification, among other related services, calling them basic courtesies.
The plan is an expanded version of a June 23 fact sheet put out by the administration, released shortly after President Donald Trump signed an executive order halting family separations stemming from the “zero tolerance” policy. But it comes weeks after the government said it would reunite families and also after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit that led to the court-imposed deadlines for reunification.
Cmdr. Jonathan White, assistant secretary for HHS’ Preparedness and Response office, presented the agency’s updated reunification plan to the judge Friday. Judge Sabraw said White’s testimony and the updated plan provided “a great deal of comfort.”
“I also have the impression that you’re operating in absolute good faith,” the judge told White.