Published: Wed, July 11, 2018
World | By Camille Rivera

Judge holds firm on deadline for reuniting immigrant families

Judge holds firm on deadline for reuniting immigrant families

The U.S. government must rapidly reunite 63 children under the age of five who were separated by immigration officials after crossing into the United States from Mexico, or face penalties, a judge said on Tuesday. And once the mothers are released into the care of a friend, relative or sponsor while their cases are being adjudicated, it makes it easier to reunite them with their children who, as a result of the Flores decision, are not legally allowed to remain with their parents while they are in custody. But a judge shot down that plan Monday, noting that it conflicts with the 1997 Flores legal settlement that prohibits detaining immigrant children for longer than 20 days - even with their parents. "This is real progress and I'm optimistic that many of these families will be reunited tomorrow, and then we'll have a very clear understanding as to who has not been reunited, why not, and what time-frame will be in place".

Thousands of babies, toddlers and older children were separated from their parents at the border this spring before Trump reversed course on June 20 amid an worldwide outcry over the images of youngsters in chain-link cages and audio recordings of children crying.

The government announced last week that it would be using DNA testing to expedite confirmation of familial ties between adults coming forward to claim children, given that several agencies had been involved in the separation of families and that databases were not complete. While parents were criminally prosecuted, children were placed in custody of the Health and Human Services Department. The administration says some of those parents have been deported, and eight have been previously released in the United States.

Lee Gelernt, ACLU deputy director of the Immigrants' Rights Project, said 54 children under 5 who were separated from their parents at the border are expected to be reunified Tuesday.

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The Legal Aid Society in NY said it is representing at least two separated children under 5 years old that meet the judge's criteria for reunification on Tuesday. "They've missed the deadline and must be held accountable".

The American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the parents in a class-action lawsuit, said USA officials "have not even tried" to return 12 children to parents who were deported, and said officials should have more quickly found eight parents who have been released in the United States.

"Let me put it this way: I think the government in the last 48 hours ... has taken significant steps", Gelernt said.

The decision came in a preliminary injunction after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit. On Monday, she said there were 102 children in that age group, and that two had already been returned to their parents.

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The New York Times reported that U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw stuck to his Tuesday deadline for the youngest children to be returned to their parents, despite government officials indicating they'd be unable to meet the target. An additional 20 children have purported parents with whom they can not be reunited because those adults have already been either removed from the United States or released into the country, which removes DHS and HHS's ability to force them to come get the children they claim are theirs. He ordered both sides back in court on Tuesday (Wednesday NZT) to give another update and for him rule on differences over protocols to follow when reuniting the remaining children.

Around the country on Tuesday, social workers, lawyers and immigration advocates waited for information about the fate of children in their care.

Sabraw said Tuesday that "full background checks of other adults in the household are not necessary under these unique circumstances".

In ordering an end to the separation of families, the president said they should instead be detained together.

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RAICES did not say how it meant to post bail once in D.C. or offer any details about the individuals it hoped to release.

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