Today is the deadline for the Trump administration to reunify separated minors between the ages of 5 and 17 with their parents.
Federal officials said in court Tuesday that the government has successfully reunited 1,012 migrant parents with their children. It has not yet reunified the 600 other eligible children in this age group and did not offer details on the other 914 minors who have been deemed ineligible for reunification.
The U.S. blew past a July 10 deadline to reunite children under age 5 with their parents. It said days later it had reunited all eligible children in that age group, but the statuses of the youngest migrants whose parents were deemed ineligible are not immediately clear.
In a closed-door meeting with Hispanic members of Congress on Wednesday, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said the federal government was on track to meeting the court-ordered deadline. Her statement was reportedly “met with disbelief and anger” from the lawmakers, the Associated Press reported.
Here’s a look at the administration’s reunification efforts leading up to Thursday’s deadline, and what’s next for affected families.
What are the latest numbers?
According to the latest government update:
- 1,637 parents have been deemed eligible for reunification. This is a handful of individuals higher than previously reported by the administration.
- Of those, 1,012 parents have been successfully reunited with their children.
The government is aiming to reunite about 64 percent of the 2,551 separated minors older than 5 by Thursday, a goal it said it would meet. But the administration, when saying this, is focusing only on those “eligible” for reunification.
Amna Nawaz updates Judy Woodruff on the government’s progress in reuniting families separated at the border.
The administration did signal that a small amount of family reunifications may get delayed by other court orders or weather-related impediments, but that it was on track to meet the deadline.
U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw, who has been requesting these consistent updates, called the administration’s efforts a “remarkable achievement.”
However, the judge has also been critical of the government in prior court updates, pointing to its “zero tolerance” policy rolled out in May that led to the thousands of family separations. This week he said the government gave no “forethought as to reunification and keeping track of people, and that’s the fallout we’re seeing.”
“There has to be an accounting,” the judge added. Sabraw was appointed by President George W. Bush.
ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt, too, has been critical of the administration’s reunification efforts, saying it’s focusing on “families who they are claiming unilaterally are eligible for reunification by the deadline.”
What about those deemed “ineligible” for reunification?
There federal government said there are 914 parents not eligible or not yet deemed eligible for reunification with their children. The U.S. said this group includes adults who have been identified as having a criminal convictions, among other reasons. Some of them were also deported.
The administration reported that as many as 463 parents are no longer in the U.S. According to a court filing this week, these cases remain “under review” to determine how many of these adults have already been deported or volunteered to be deported.
The government didn’t provide additional information about these parents’ circumstances, but did say it was reviewing each case individually.
On Tuesday, the administration said that 127 parents agreed to waive their right to reunification. In these cases, migrant parents may have felt that it was perhaps safer to leave their children in the U.S., rather than risk the harmful conditions back in their home country.
As the PBS NewsHour’s Amna Nawaz pointed out Tuesday, there were 12 parents in the first group of separated minors — under age 5 — who were deported without their children. “The government said they had a lot of trouble finding them and trying to reconnect them with their kids. You can’t imagine how they’re going to do that with 463 in this case,” Nawaz said.
Federal officials are expected to provide a complete list of deported parents to the ACLU before Thursday’s deadline.
Other things to watch
Another notable number in this week’s court filings was that 900 of the parents have been issued a final order of removal from the country.
In a separate court filing Tuesday, the administration argued for a shorter waiting period for removals after reunifications occur. In that time, parents decide whether to seek asylum after they’re reunited with their children. In a court filing this week, the administration said it wants that window of time to last two days, while the ACLU argues for longer, at seven days.
According to court documents, the administration said “maintaining custody of certain aliens for a longer period than necessary to effectuate removal” impeded U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement’s ability to fully enforce the country’s immigration laws.
The filing said there is a limited amount of space to detain these families — about 2,500 to 2,700 beds in centers nationwide — and that a longer waiting period meant increased costs. The administration said it costs $319 a day to detain each person.
In a filing Wednesday, ACLU said seven days is needed to facilitate a “meaningful in-person opportunity to consult with their children and attorneys,” among other representatives to help decide “what might be the most consequential decision of their lives.”
The judge’s temporary halt on deportations will remain in place until a hearing on Friday to settle the disagreement both parties.
What happens if the U.S. doesn’t meet this deadline?
It’s not immediately clear what penalties the administration might face for missing the July 26 deadline. However, when the government missed the first court-imposed deadline of July 10 for reunifications, the judge was critical of the federal government’s efforts, but also pressed the administration to continue processing families.
For now, the focus seems to be on reuniting as many families as possible, and determining what to do for those deemed “ineligible” or otherwise remain separated. Remedies, if they happen, may come later.
Another status report is expected to be filed Thursday, and both the administration and the ACLU will meet again in court in San Diego on Friday.