(Bloomberg) -- The judge overseeing the reunification of thousands of immigrant children and parents who were separated as part of U.S. border enforcement put the Trump administration on a tight leash marching toward a July 26 deadline.
The government was directed to immediately compile a list of all children being held and all parents in immigration custody. The judge also called for six progress reports as the deadline draws closer.
"It is important to begin reunifying now," U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw said Friday during a hearing in San Diego. “It should be a very straight-forward process. I know it will take a lot of staffing, but it should be done. Parents and children should be reunited."
The focus now is on kids ages 5-17 after the government reported this week that it had complied with an earlier order to first concentrate on children ages 0-4.
The judge also told the U.S. to cover the cost of all reunifications after the American Civil Liberties Union asserted that families were being forced to pay for travel expenses and DNA tests to prove parentage. Justice Department lawyers said the cost would be “a huge ask” of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department.
Sabraw commended the government on its efforts so far in response to his June ruling requiring reunification after a public outcry led President Donald Trump to suspend his separation policy. He set another hearing for Monday.
Both sides voiced concerns that the fast pace of the process carries perils.
An ACLU lawyer said he fears that many families, once reunited, will be promptly deported before they can apply to stay in the U.S. A Justice Department attorney said the government would make no promises that it won’t deport any families over the next week.
The U.S., meanwhile, said in a court filing that using expedited procedures increases the risk that children will be handed over to people who falsely claim to be their parents or placed into situations that endanger the children.
The government laid out a plan in which Immigration and Customs Enforcement will identify six to eight locations where as many as 200 kids a day will be reunited with parents. Officials don’t plan with the older children to do DNA testing and vetting as thorough as what they did with youngest ones.
The Health and Human Services Department said it has identified 2,551 migrants in the 5-17 age group who are “potentially” eligible for reunification, but that some adults are expected to be ruled out as parents or deemed otherwise unfit to take custody of the children. The agency initially estimated “under 3,000” children were covered by the court-ordered reunification process.
“As our case workers have further refined the files and conducted interviews, we have been able to determine that a number of children who may have qualified under the court case are not in fact eligible,” the department said Friday in a statement. “This includes, for example, cases where a child was reported to have traveled to the U.S. with a parent, but upon further examination it was learned that a separation occurred prior to crossing the border, or cases where the adult purporting to be a parent was found not to be a parent.”
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