SAN DIEGO -- A federal judge in San Diego Friday ordered the Trump administration to continue without delay the process of reuniting young immigrant children who were taken away from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border, but said the government was in "substantial compliance" with the deadline he set for reunifications.
U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw confirmed data released by the federal government Thursday, saying 57 of 103 children under age 5 who were taken from their families have been reunited with their parents. Sabraw earlier had ordered the government to return all separated children to their families by July 10.
Federal government officials insisted that of the remaining 46 young children, 22 were determined to be ineligible for reunification due to safety concerns posed by the parents in question, while the others could not be returned because their parents had already been deported or were in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service for other offenses. In two cases, the alleged parents were being held in state jails and one parent has been missing for more than a year.
But Sabraw ordered the government to continue reuniting children without delay.
"I think it is important to reunify now," the judge said, noting a pending July 26 deadline for all children to be returned to their parents regardless of age.
Sabraw said he plans to hold a number of status hearings over the next two weeks to ensure that as many as 3,000 children over age 5 are reunited with their parents or family members.
The American Civil Liberties Union has accused the Trump administration of failing to meet the reunification deadline for young children and failing to follow through on its vow to notify the ACLU of the time and place of each reunification so the organization could verify them.
"Not only did the government fail to give notice, we heard reports of troubling situations, including ICE leaving a parent and kids, one of whom is 6 months old, alone at a bus stop," according to the ACLU. "The government's lack of communication caused hardship for families who have been through enough."
Outside federal court Friday, ACLU national attorney Lee Gelernt said it was "outrageous" for the federal government to take children away from their families in the first place.
Gelernt said he is worried that separated families will be reunited then deported.
According to CNN, the Department of Justice filed court papers saying it had reached an agreement with the ACLU that will give detained immigrant parents a choice of keeping their children with them in detention or having them put in the care of the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement without them.
That arrangement, however, could run afoul of a decades-old legal settlement that restricts the amount of time the federal government can detain children. A federal judge in Los Angeles has already rejected a government request to amend that settlement.
Sabraw scheduled another status hearing for Monday at 9:30 a.m.