Feds Ordered to Speed Up Family Reunions at Border

A mother migrating from Honduras holds her 1-year-old child while surrendering to U.S. Border Patrol agents after illegally crossing the border Monday, June 25, 2018, near McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

SAN DIEGO (CN) – A federal judge on Tuesday ordered the Trump administration to streamline its process of reuniting parents and children separated at the U.S.-Mexico border, the same day federal officials said they would comply with a court order to release families – albeit with GPS ankle monitors.

Just four children have been reunited with their parents and 34 more are expected to be reunited by the end of the day, according to court documents filed Tuesday and a status conference in a federal courtroom in San Diego.

U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw focused on a group of 63 parents from a list of 102 children under the age of five in federal custody. Last month, Sabraw ordered all detained children under five to be reunited with their families by today, but the government said Monday it will miss the deadline.

According to the Trump administration, 51 children are eligible to be reunited with parents currently in ICE custody. However, only 34 adults cleared a criminal background and were verified to be parents of the children via DNA testing. Another 16 parents cleared backgrounds checks but DNA tests haven’t come back yet, and one parent’s criminal background check is pending.

Another 12 parents have been deported from the United States and would likely not be reunited by Tuesday’s deadline, the Trump administration said.

Sabraw said 63 could be reunited later in the day if the government made efforts to streamline their process. He included parents who have been released into the United States and but face additional screening under a policy adopted by the Department of Health and Human Services.

“These are firm deadlines, not aspirational goals,” Sabraw said in court as he made rulings from the bench on how to streamline the process for those reunions.

Sabraw ordered requiring DNA cheek swabs to determine parentage only if documents are not available. The federal government said its process to reunify parents and children was taking time due to the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, a federal law passed in 2008 that requires screening children to check if they are victims of human trafficking.

But Sabraw called the adherence to that policy in this unique situation “backwards” and unnecessary because the children arrived at the border with their parents, not as unaccompanied minors.

He said the government must offer good faith, reasonable explanations when families cannot be reunited due to pending backgrounds checks or criminal history.

Last week, Sabraw ordered the government to produce a list of children under the age of five who were separated from their families. While the list contained the names of 102 children, Justice Department attorney Sarah Fabian said Tuesday one of the children may be a U.S. citizen and therefore not covered by Sabraw’s order.

It was unclear how the child became detained by ICE agents.

Sabraw said the government’s next order of business is to turn over the list of children over five being detained. The government now has two weeks to reunite them with their parents.

“That’s going to be a significant undertaking,” said Sabraw.

He also told American Civil Liberties Union attorney Lee Gelernt to notify the court if the government doesn’t comply with his orders.

Another status conference will be held Friday to discuss the group of children over the age of 5, which numbers about 2,900.

A Justice Department attorney also informed Sabraw that a federal judge’s order Monday night denying the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back limits on how long immigrant children can be detained – limits laid down in a 1997 deal known as the Flores settlement – means parents will now have to choose whether they want to be in the class of detainees being overseen by Sabraw or if they want Flores settlement rules to apply to them.

When asked by Sabraw if the ACLU had any objections, Gelernt said, “This was our understanding.”

Meanwhile, multiple news outlets reported Tuesday that parents are being released from detention facilities with GPS ankle monitors pending hearings in immigration court.



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