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Walter Armando Jimenez Melendez, an asylum seeker from El Salvador, arrives with his four year-old son Jeremy at La Posada Providencia shelter in San Benito, Texas, U.S., shortly after he said they were reunited following separation since late May while in detention, on July 10. Photo by Loren Elliott/Reuters

U.S. says it has reunited about half of all separated children under 5. What about the others?

The Trump administration said the youngest migrant children separated from their parents under its “zero tolerance” policy have now been reunited with their families.

In a call with reporters today, officials from the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services said 57 children under 5 were reunited with their parents, as of July 12.

However, about half of the more than 100 children under age 5 who have been separated from their parents were deemed ineligible for reunification because of unspecified safety concerns and issues, officials said Thursday. The agencies, along with the Justice Department, said 46 of the 103 children remain separated from their parents. This is an increase from the 27 children deemed ineligible by the government earlier this week.

Here’s how the government broke the numbers down:

There are 46 children ineligible for reunification. Of those children:

22 children remain separated due to “safety concerns posed by the adults in question”:

  • 11 adults have a “serious criminal history,” amounting to charges or convictions related to child cruelty, kidnapping, murder, human smuggling, domestic violence, etc. Officials on the call offered no other details about these charges.
  • Seven adults were not parents of the children from whom they were separated. On the call, officials said two DNA tests came back negative, but didn’t provide information about the other 5 adults.
  • One adult had a fake birth certificate.
  • One adult was believed to have abused the child.
  • One adult planned to house a child with an adult charged with sexual abuse of a minor.
  • One adult is being treated for a communicable disease.

24 children are ineligible for reunification because of the circumstances of the adult they arrived with:

  • 12 adults have already been deported and are “being contacted.” On the call, officials said the parents had every opportunity to take their child with them when they were deported, but declined to do so.
  • Nine adults are in custody of U.S. Marshals Service for “other offenses.”
  • Two adults are in custody of state jails for “other offenses.”
  • One adult’s location has been unknown 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,” a statement released this morning from multiple agencies said. “Of course, there remains a tremendous amount of hard work and similar obstacles facing our teams in reuniting the remaining families. The Trump administration does not approach this mission lightly.”

What advocates say

The ACLU issued a response soon after the government’s update: “The Trump administration says it has reunited 57 children under 5 that it forcibly separated from their parents. The deadline to reunify all the children under 5 was July 10. The government did not even reunite these 57 children by that deadline.”

Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, added, “If in fact 57 children have been reunited because of the lawsuit, we could not be more happy for those families. But make no mistake about it: the government missed the deadline even for these 57 children. Accordingly, by the end of the day we will decide what remedies to recommend to the court for the non-compliance.”

What’s next?

Officials told reporters that the 46 children deemed ineligible for reunification will remain in U.S. custody until they’re placed with a family member or HHS-approved sponsor. No timeline was given on how long this could take, but it’s part of the HHS’ typical process for the thousands of unaccompanied minors who are transferred to the care of the agency’s Office of Refugee Resettlement.

READ MORE: What happens when a child arrives at the U.S. border?

The government has been under court-imposed deadlines for reunification, stemming from a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of a woman who was separated from her child under the policy. President Donald Trump signed an executive order on June 20 that halted the separations, and the government has since been mandated to reunify families that were separated.

Earlier this week, the government missed a June 10 deadline for reunifying all children under 5. U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw told the government to continue working on reunifying families. “These are firm deadlines. They’re not aspirational goals,” the judge said Tuesday, the day of the initial deadline, saying the government still had hours in the day to reunify the youngest migrants affected by the administration’s policy.

Amna Nawaz talked with Lee Gelernt of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project on Tuesday when the government didn’t meet its first court-imposed deadline on reunification.

What about the rest of the separated minors?

For children older than 5, a second deadline has been set for July 26. That’s about two weeks away for “under 3,000” children age 5 to 17.

Gelernt told the NewsHour on Tuesday that the ACLU hopes “that now the government has figured out some basic process for doing these reunifications. … I think it’s an enormous task, as the judge said. But, on the other hand, it’s a mess the government made. They really need to fix it. We are more than happy to help in any way we can.”

READ MORE: 5 numbers to watch on family separations

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