USA seeks to reunite more young immigrants as new deadline looms

USA seeks to reunite more young immigrants as new deadline looms

Immigrant parents who reveled after joyful reunions with their young children spoke Wednesday of the traumatic impact of being separated from their sons and daughters for months after they were taken from them at the US border.

In total, 46 children under age 5 are still separated from the adults they were taken from at the border and are not eligible for reunification under court order at this time, in some cases because the parent was found to be unsafe or not actually a parent, according to the government. There are an estimated 102 migrant children under five in federal custody, with a limited number of cases not qualifying for reunification due to the parents' criminal background or signs of child abuse.

Ten of the children were ineligible for family reunification because their parent was in the "custody of U.S. Marshals Service" or "state or county custody".

"Throughout the reunification process our goal has been the well-being of the children and returning them to a safe environment", HHS Secretary Alex Azar, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a joint statement.

On Monday, a federal judge in Los Angeles emphatically rejected the Trump administration's efforts to detain immigrant families for an extended period.

Trump's hardline immigration policy refers all apprehended undocumented adults for criminal prosecution - a break with past administrations who limited criminal referral for most adults who illegally cross into the US with their juvenile family members.

Sabraw also asked the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the separated families, to suggest a potential punishment if the Trump administration fails to meet the deadline.

"Parents of children under the age of five are being reunified with their children, then released and enrolled into an alternative to detention (ATD) program, meaning they will be placed on an ankle monitor and released into the community", said Matthew Albence, a senior official with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

"Make no mistake about it: The government missed the deadline even for these 57 children", Gelernt said. "Accordingly, by the end of the day we will decide what remedies to recommend to the court for the non-compliance", Gelernt said.

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A federal consent decree requires the government to release children from family detention facilities within 20 days.

Sabraw, appointed in 2003 by President George W. Bush, had ordered officials to provide an update on their progress on Thursday and scheduled a hearing Friday afternoon to discuss the deadlines and other issues. One child has still not had either of its parents identified. There is also one child in custody that the Department of Justice said could be a USA citizen. He told reporters on the White House's south lawn, "Well I have a solution".

In 22 other cases, adults posed safety concerns, they said.

Monday's hearing set the stage for a dramatic day of reunifications on Tuesday across the country, though they are likely to occur largely outside public view.

The administration faces a second, bigger deadline - July 26 - to reunite about 2,000 older children who were also separated from their families at the border in the past few months.

The ACLU's Gelernt said during a court hearing on Friday that it was "startling" that the government can not find some parents.

Officials have considered using military installations to hold detained parents and children, because the three existing family detention centers are mostly full.

Officials have said they have taken steps including the testing of DNA to prove family relationships, and reviewing whether the parents would be suitable caregivers.

"We are already beginning a process for reunifying children aged 5 to 17", said Chris Meekins, the chief of staff for HHS' response and preparedness office, in the call with reporters.

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