Sunday 18 November 2018

US officials miss court deadline to reunite immigrant families

A judge had set a 14-day deadline to reunite youngsters under five with their parents and a 30-day deadline for older children.

Three-year-old Jose Jr is reunited with his family (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Three-year-old Jose Jr is reunited with his family (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

By Elliot Spagat and Mike Householder, Associated Press

US officials have failed to meet a court-ordered deadline to reunite dozens of immigrant children with their families after they were forcibly separated at the southern border.

Late last month, District Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego set a 14-day deadline to reunite youngsters under five with their parents and a 30-day deadline for older children.

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Yeni Gonzalez, a Guatemalan mother who was separated from her three children at the border (Craig Ruttle/AP)

In trying to meet the first deadline, the government began with a list of 102 children potentially eligible to be reunited and whittled that down to 75 through screening that included DNA testing.

Of those 75, Justice Department lawyers had told the court the government would guarantee 38 would be back with their parents by the end of Tuesday.

They said an additional 17 could also join their parents if DNA results arrived and a criminal background check on a parent was completed by the end of the day.

Tell people not to come to our country illegally. That's the solution Donald Trump

Meanwhile, government lawyers told a federal judge the Trump administration would not meet the deadline for 20 other children under five because it needed more time to track down parents who have already been deported or released into the US.

Mr Sabraw showed little appetite for giving more time to the government unless it could show good reasons in specific cases.

“These are firm deadlines. They’re not aspirational goals,” the judge said.

Asked about the missed deadline, Mr Trump said: “Well, I have a solution. Tell people not to come to our country illegally. That’s the solution.”

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Protesters oppose the US border policy (Genna Martin/seattlepi.com/AP)

The government defended its screening, saying it discovered parents with serious criminal histories, five adults whose DNA tests showed they were not parents of the children they claimed to have, and one credible case of child abuse.

“Our process may not be as quick as some would like, but there is no question it is protecting children,” said Chris Meekins, a Health and Human Services Department official.

American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Lee Gelernt, whose organisation filed the lawsuit that forced the administration’s hand, said he was “both thrilled and disappointed” with the government’s work on the deadline.

“Things have taken a real step forward,” Mr Gelernt said.

Press Association

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