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For some children, the government has no timeline to reunite families. Here’s why

The Trump administration says it has completed the reunification of 57 children, under the age of 5, who were separated from their parents after entering the United States. But dozens in that same age group remain in government care, while many hundreds more over the age of 5 are still waiting to see their families. John Yang gets an update from Amna Nawaz on the government’s plans.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we have been reporting, the Trump administration says, as of this morning, it completed the reunification of 57 children, all under the age of 5, all separated from their families after entering the United States.

    A federal judge had ordered those reunifications last month, and set a deadline for Tuesday of this week, which the administration failed to meet.

    Today, dozens of children under the age of 5 remain in government care, and many hundreds more over the age of 5 have yet to be reunited with their families.

    John Yang speaks with Amna Nawaz, who's been following this story.

  • John Yang:

    Judy, the 57 children reunited with families represent just over half of the migrant children younger than 5 who were separated at the border from their families.

    Earlier today, the government officials gave more details of the reunification process and their plans deal with the remaining older children.

    My "NewsHour" colleague Amna Nawaz is here.

    So, Amna, why only 57, and what about the other 46?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, the key part of the government's language here is eligible children. It's how that they determined that, right

    Since the June 26 court order, government officials have basically been working to locate, identify and then vet the parents that they see they need to reunite those children with.

    As a result of that process, running background checks, investigations, they excluded 46 kids. Why? Well, they basically put them into categories. One category, they say 22 kids were found ineligible for reunification because of safety concerns posed by the adults.

    Those are things like a serious criminal history, an allegation of child abuse, not a safe environment to put the kid back into. The other category, 24 kids, they said, ineligible because of the circumstances of the adults.

    A number of adults were already deported. A number of adults are still in custody of the U.S. Marshals or state jails for other offenses. So those kids, they say, could not be placed into a safe or stable environment. The government says if they can't secure the well-being of the kids, they are not going to release them.

  • John Yang:

    So, these were the children under the age of 5.

    They were 103 of them. It took them three weeks to do this. Why so long?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, part of the process was having to go back and locate the parents in the first place. They had to kind of do some forensic back-channeling here.

    We have learned through our reporting that the system set up in the first place really wasn't set up to reunify on the back end. They were sort of evolving the process as they went.

    And, as you mentioned, the 46 kids who are still out, they're just in the regular reunification pipeline now. They're not expedited. They're not under a court-ordered deadline of any kind. Their parents, family members, sponsors are going through the process, which we have no timeline for.

  • John Yang:

    And there's another deadline coming up, July 26, for the children between the ages 5 of 17.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That's right.

  • John Yang:

    What's the plan? What is government's plan for them?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, it looks to be very much still evolving.

    We have some late filings that came down with the courts. I'm going to go to paper at this point, only because that number of kids from 5 to 17, we still don't know what it is. They had to submit a list with the first number of kids, the under 5's. We knew that was the 103.

    We don't know how many kids are between the ages of 5 and 17. It's somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000, which is a pretty big range.

    As of the latest filing now, it looks like the court is asking that they file that list by tomorrow. So we should at least have some kind of number that we're working with. But also because the government missed the earlier deadlines, the ACLU is now asking for specific remedies from the court.

    And they're asking for seven steps, including things like a complete list detailed by age, breakdown of the 5-to-17-aged kids by Monday, July 16. They want all parentage verifications by Thursday, July 19. They want a daily report filed with the court saying, how many reunifications can you do each and every day, updated single every day.

    And then they want a detailed reason if anyone is excluded from that list. And these are details we're still very much going through in this latest filing. But that is how we think they will handle the next group.

  • John Yang:

    But it sounds like the judge is serious, that he doesn't want the next deadline missed.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, the judge has said over and over again the process here should be aimed toward reunification.

    It's not necessarily about punishing the government. But the ACLU and the court have basically said, OK, there has got to be some recourse if you miss these deadlines again and again.

  • John Yang:

    Now, finally, you have been following a specific child through this process, a 3-year-old named Sofi (ph) that you met during your reporting on the border.

    What's the latest on Sofi?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That's right.

    My colleague Frank Carlson and I met her down in Juarez. We came with her across the border. She is still in the reunification pipeline. From what we understand — and, again, the government will not comment on a specific case — but she is part of the 46 children who are excluded from eligible — being eligible for reunification right now.

    There's a subset of seven adults of that 46 who were not the parents. Sofi, as we know, came with her grandmother. Despite the fact that the grandmother says she had legal guardianship papers at the time that were dismissed, her reunification timeline does not look to be expedited.

    Her family is going through the process. She is now 20 days in custody. She's 3 years old. They have no end for that timeline right now.

  • John Yang:

    I'm sure you will continue to watch this and keep us updated.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Of course.

  • John Yang:

    Thank you, Amna.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Thanks, John.

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