A judge denied the Justice Department’s request for a deadline extension to reunite all migrant children under the age of 5 separated from their parents.
July 10 (UPI) — A federal judge on Tuesday denied the Justice Department’s request for a deadline extension to reunite all migrant children under the age of 5 separated from their parents.
U. S. District Judge Dana Sabraw of the Southern District of California described her Tuesday deadline and the July 26 deadline for children between the ages of 5 and 17 as “firm.”
“They’re not aspirational goals,” he said.
On Friday, the U. S. government asked for more time to conduct the necessary steps to reunite children immigration officials separated from their parents in the wake of the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy.
Chris Meekins, chief of staff of the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response at the Department of Health and Human Services, said the department expects to reunite 34 of the 102 separated children under the age of 5 on Tuesday. That’s down from the 54 children officials said they planned to reunite.
Sabraw asked an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union — whose lawsuit prompted the court-ordered deadline to reunite the families — to propose a potential punishment if the government doesn’t reunite the 63 children he believes should be ready for reunification Tuesday.
“They need to respond,” the judge said of federal officials. “They need to be… aware of the deadlines. I expect these tasks would be provided today.”
On Monday, the Justice Department provided information to the judge on several children not ready to be reunited for various reasons. They included:
— Three who won’t be returned because of their parents’ criminal records
— Three who crossed with someone other than a parent
— Five whose parents required further background checks
— Nine whose parents have been deported
— Nine whose parents were released from custody in the United States
— Four whose parents were in state criminal custody and eight whose parents were in federal criminal custody
— Four who could be released to a non-parent sponsor
— One for whom there is no parental information.
On Friday, HHS Secretary Alex Azar said the department was using DNA tests to try to quickly comply with the court deadline and reunite the children — nearly 3,000 of them. In addition to checking for a biological connection between parent and child, HHS officials were vetting parents to make sure they were not “unfit” or present a danger to their child.
In mid-June, the Department of Homeland Security said it separated nearly 2,000 children from their parents in April and May after the Department of Justice announced a “zero-tolerance” policy to prosecute everyone who crosses the border illegally.
“If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law. If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in early May.
The new policy faced backlash from immigrant advocates and lawmakers from the Democratic and Republican parties, and on June 20, President Donald Trump signed an executive order ending the practice of separating families. The order, though, didn’t address how or when already separated families would be reunited.