58 immigrant children reunited as government slowly reconnects families

Guatemalan Elsa Ortiz, who was deported from the US in June, asks to have her son back as she demonstrates outside the hotel where US Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and authorities from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico, are holding a meeting in Guatemala City on July 10, 2018. - Nielsen arrived in the Guatemala to discuss the migration crisis unleashed by Washington's "zero tolerance" practice with authorities of Mexico and countries of the North Triangle of Central America. The US policy saw more than 2,300 children split up from their families and their parents prosecuted for illegally crossing the border, even if they did so to seek asylum. (Photo by Johan ORDONEZ / AFP) (Photo credit should read JOHAN ORDONEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Fifty-eight immigrant children under the age of 5 have been reunited with their parents after being separated at the border, the Trump administration said in a Thursday evening filing.

That was one more than the government had announced earlier in the day. The new tally comes as part of a class action lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union filed against the administration.

Though the deadline for reuniting children under 5 has passed, in two weeks the government will need to reunite thousands more children aged 5 to 17 to meet the judge’s next deadline.

Despite working extensively together, government and ACLU lawyers sharply disagreed on how to proceed in the case, according to the joint filing.

The ACLU asked for the government to provide a daily report of reunified families to the court starting next week and for additional details to prevent the government from missing future deadlines.

The organization also asked the judge to set additional specific deadlines going forward. However, both parties appeared to disagree about appropriate time frames.

Further, the group wanted a fund to be established to pay for professional mental health counseling, “which will be used to treat children who are suffering from severe trauma as a result of their forcible separation from their parents.”

Although the new filing details the latest reunification numbers of children younger than 5, it did not provide a total of how many kids older than 5 the government believes to be in custody. It also does not offer any details on the process the government plans to use to reunite those families, or how it will work to reunite children whose parents have been deported.

The ACLU also claimed that the administration has yet to share information on 23 people who the government said did not fit into the affected class of people they are working to reunite.

The government maintained in the filing that it is complying with the judge’s orders. The government outlined how it was meeting the previously issued court order to streamline its process, and said that in some cases it was unable to complete the parent-child verification process.

This included not completing DNA tests and background checks on other adults living in the same households as parents in some cases, the administration said in the court filing. On Tuesday, Judge Dana Sabraw had sided with the ACLU on such steps, saying it was the government’s “obligation” to reunite families it had separated and that the government should not subject such parents to the same processes that would be required for someone who had not arrived with the child.

The lawyers will be back in court on Friday to hash out the issues with the judge.

The Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy to prosecute all adults crossing the border illegally resulted in the separation of thousands of children from their parents after entering the United States, though this case was filed long before that policy and affects almost all families separated at the border still in government custody.

After an initial backlash, President Donald Trump signed an executive order aimed at keeping families together at the border.