Trump administration reunites 57 immigrant children with parents after missing court-imposed deadline

Alan Gomez
Javier, a 30 year old from Honduras, holds his 4 year old son William during a media availability in New York after they were reunited after being separated for 55 days following their detention at the Texas border, July 11, 2018.
Lucas Jackson | Reuters

The Trump administration claims it completed the first round of reunifications Thursday of families separated at the border, but it will be up to a federal judge to decide whether government officials moved fast enough to comply with his order.

U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw imposed a series of deadlines for the administration to reunite nearly 3,000 children separated from their parents, mostly under President Donald Trump's "zero tolerance" immigration enforcement policy. The first group, children under 5 years old, were supposed to be reunited with their parents by Tuesday.

Sabraw made clear during a court hearing Tuesday that his deadlines were firm, and he raised the possibility of punishment for the government if those children were not reunited by the deadline "or within the immediate proximity" of it.

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Two government agencies issued statements that they completed the final reunification at 7 a.m. Thursday. The Department of Health and Human Services, which has custody of the minors, and the Department of Homeland Security, which has custody of most of the adults, said in joint statements that they reunited 57 children with their parents.

Sabraw will also have to decide whether that number is enough. The government is holding 103 children under 5 years old who were separated from their parents, but Department of Justice lawyers have been negotiating with the judge to carve out exceptions.

Sabraw has agreed that not all 103 children could be reunited, and that certain cases are too complicated to complete within his deadlines. Some of those cases that were not completed include:

• 11 parents were found to have a "serious criminal history," including charges or convictions of child cruelty, kidnapping and murder, making them a danger to their children.

• 12 parents have already been deported, and Sabraw has agreed to give the government more time to identify those parents and create a system to reunify them with their children.

• 11 adults are in federal and state custody on non-immigration, criminal charges.

• Seven adults were determined not to be a parent. The government has been conducting DNA tests of all alleged families to ensure that children are not being released to human smugglers.

• One parent's identity remains unknown, and the Department of Justice believes that the child, who has been in custody for over a year, may be a U.S. citizen.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a joint statement that the 57 reunifications show that the government is in full compliance with Sabraw's order. 

"Our agencies' careful vetting procedures helped prevent the reunification of children with an alleged murderer, an adult convicted of child cruelty, and adults determined not to be the parent of the child," they wrote. "The Trump administration does not approach this mission lightly, and we intend to continue our good faith efforts to reunify families."

Sabraw is scheduled to hold a court hearing Friday morning in San Diego to decide whether the government did enough. If he finds the government missed his deadlines, he could hold government officials in contempt of court and has a wide variety of punishments available to him.