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As the government races to reunite eligible separated families, uncertainty hangs over those limbo

Thursday is the court-ordered deadline for the U.S. government to reunite more than 2,500 children between the ages of 5 and 17 were held in government custody as a result of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, In an even.ng court filing, the government says 1,820 children have been discharged. Judy Woodruff talks with Yamiche Alcindor and Amna Nawaz.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Today is the court-ordered deadline for the U.S. government to reunite immigrant families separated at the border. More than 2,500 children between the ages of 5 and 17 were held in custody as a result of administration's zero tolerance policy.

    In a court filing this evening, the government says 1,820 children have been discharged.

    Yamiche Alcindor and Amna Nawaz are, both of them, back with us to help explain what's behind the policy and what's behind the numbers.

    Hello to both of you.

    So, Amna, you have been following this. What is the latest on the reunification?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So it looks like — look, the deadline is today. The government has until midnight tonight Pacific time to meet their deadline. So, there are still several hours to go.

    They maintain they're going to meet the deadline, they're going to reunify all kids who are eligible in this age group with their parents.

    The numbers so far are a little tricky, because it's not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison. But those numbers you saw right there, it's still the same number of eligible kids. They started out with about 2,500.

    Even if you take the biggest number that they say they have now discharged, a little over 1,800, 1,400 of which were unified with parents in ice detention, they're still right now, Judy, leaving out about a third.

    And those are a third of all kids who were separated by this administration that they don't yet have a plan to reunify.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So those are — question marks still hangs over…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … children.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Very much so.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Yamiche, it was the Trump administration that ordered this policy that ordered the children to be separated from the parents.

    Now they're trying to put them back together again. What — are they explaining why, how this happened?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, President Trump avoided talking about any families that were separated as part of his immigration policy.

    Instead, he wanted to talk about immigrants that are committing crimes like MS-13 gang members. That's striking, because the president has been very tough on immigration, but he was also very, very vocal when he put this policy in place.

    He said that he wanted it to deter immigrants from coming to the United States, and as a result separated family to do that.

    And I want to put up the numbers, because it shows why the president doesn't want to talk about this. In the latest "PBS NewsHour"/NPR and Marist poll, it found that half of Americans characterized the direction President Trump is moving U.S. immigration policy as a change for the worse.

    Another number that's that's really important is that the issue of immigration also hurts candidates when it comes to the midterms. The same poll found 44 percent of voters would back a candidate for Congress who opposed President Trump's immigration policy.

    So I reached out to all sorts of sources, not only White House sources, but people close to Trump. And no one would want to talk about this today.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Amna, back to you.

    You have been talking to different agencies as they try to follow whatever the policy happens to be.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What happens now?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That's a big question mark.

    There's still a lot of work to be done by the government and a lot of uncertainty for a lot of these families. Let's think about some of these numbers for a second, Judy. There are still hundreds of parents who are slated for deportation who now have to decide, will I leave with my child, or will I leave without my child?

    There are hundreds of parents who have already left the country, either voluntarily or were deported. And there's reasons to believe that they might not even have known what documents they were signing when they left, what exactly what rights they were signing away. There's questions about that.

    There are still 40 children for whom the government doesn't have any identifying information about who those parents are. And this says nothing about the nearly 1,000 children — we're talking about all ages, infants up to age 17 — who were separated by the government, and there's no expedited reunification timeline because they weren't part of this judge's order.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Meaning they came in at a different time or…

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Meeting, for some reason, the government has found that they are excluding them from this group. They're still in government care in some cases. They may be placed in other sponsors or with other family members, but they weren't part of these deadlines we're talking about today.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, finally, Yamiche, there's been so much controversy over this whole thing, as we have been discussing, the testimonials from the family. We have heard even — I mean, we have heard directly from people who are working with these families.

    What is the government saying about how to go forward?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The government is saying that they have tried all that they can, and that they're trying to reunite — unify as many families as they possibly can.

    The government just tonight said that — in their court filing that they want to have a next step. And the next step is, we want to start telling you about who the people are that we deported. We want to also start trying to find some of those parents who were deported without their children.

    They are also saying that they want to share with the ACLU data about the people who have been reunited. They're talking about names and locations. We would think that was something that they would already have provided, but they're now saying, we can do that now.

    The other thing is, the government wants people to leave immediately. They want people — after 48 hours of being reunited, they want parents to make a decision to either leave the country with your child or without your child.

    And that's really important, because the ACLU is saying that they need more time. But the government is saying, no, we were very clear in whether or not you're going to waive your right to have your child or with your child. And, as a result, you need to make up your mind.

    And the government's also saying that, while people — there's arguments about whether or not people understood that they were waving their rights when some of those parents were deported without their kids. They're saying that they were very clear with those parents.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, today was the deadline. But it sounds as if there are still a lot of questions that remains to be answered. The story is not over me.

    Yamiche Alcindor, Amna Nawaz, thank you both.

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