Half Of Eligible Migrant Families Reunited As Court-Imposed Deadline Nears

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter
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With just two days remaining before a court-imposed deadline, immigration authorities reunited about half of the eligible migrant families covered by a federal lawsuit against the Trump administration, according to a government court filing.

In a June 26 order, a federal judge in California gave the government a month to reunite 2,551 migrant children between the ages of 5 and 17 who were separated from their parents under the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy.

Of those, 1,634 have been found to be eligible for reunification, while the rest cannot be returned to their parents for a variety of reasons, in many cases because the parents have agreed to be deported without them.

As of Monday night, 879 — or just over half — of the eligible migrant families had been reunited in immigration detention, according to the filing. Another 538 parents had been screened and cleared for reunification, but were still awaiting the arrival of their children.

That leaves 217 eligible families whose reunification is complicated by the fact that the parents have been released into the interior of the U.S. and must be located by immigration authorities. It is unlikely the government will be able to do so by the Thursday deadline.

The reunifications are taking place pursuant to an order from U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw, who is overseeing an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuit against the Trump administration over family separations. Sabraw compelled the reunification of migrant children under 5 years old in a separate order, which was completed earlier in July.

Reuniting the families involves a time-consuming screening process, which includes criminal checks of migrant adults and people in the households where the children will be taken, plus DNA testing to confirm parentage. Immigration officials say fraud is an obstacle to swift reunification and that the checks are necessary to ensure migrant children are not put in harm’s way after leaving government custody. (RELATED: HHS: 20 Percent Of Young Migrant Children Cannot Be Reunited Due To ‘Safety Concerns’ About Parents)

Monday’s court filing listed 917 parents who are currently ineligible for reunification based on a host of factors, including prohibitive criminal records or because their cases require “further evaluation.” Just over half of the ineligible people — 463 — are believed to be outside the U.S., and another 130 have voluntarily declined to be reunited with their kids, according to the court filing.

It remains unclear what will happen if the government is unable to reunite all eligible migrant families by the deadline. Immigration authorities missed the July 10 deadline for the under-five cohort, but Sabraw did not issue any contempt of court citations against administration officials at the time.

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