More than 700 undocumented children over the age of five remain separated from their parents even after the latest court-ordered deadline for the Trump administration to reunify families has come and gone.
Speaking with ABC News, a Department of Homeland Security official said that by Thursday night, 1,442 of the more than 2,500 children held by the government had been returned to their parents in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody. An additional 378 were turned over to other sponsors, family members, or guardians.
That leaves 711 children who have yet to be reunited, despite Judge Dana Sabraw’s Thursday night deadline. Of those, the parents of 431 children have reportedly already been deported from the United States. In a phone call with reporters, Health and Human Services official Chris Meekins said the department was awaiting revised orders from Judge Sabraw for how to proceed with those reunification efforts.
On that same call, the government claimed that the parents of 120 children in their custody had waived their reunification right, and struggled to explain why the overall number of children eligible to be returned to their parents had shifted over the past several days. They also spoke about the situation in seemingly callous ways.
From the New York Times (emphasis mine):
Officials with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency reunited 1,442 of the last group of children with their families and said they expected to complete all “eligible” reunifications by midnight Thursday, Pacific time.
“By the court deadline this evening, we are on track to reunite all eligible parents within ICE custody,” said Chris Meekins, chief of staff at the Department of Health and Human Services.
But in a day that saw government officials and community volunteers scrambling to bring families together, multiple reports of failed reunifications raised questions about whether the deadline had in fact been met. Further confusing the issue was a change in the way the government tallied its progress, with the latest report counting children rather than parents, a reversal from prior reports.
“The data is dynamic,” a government official said of the discrepancy in a conference call with reporters.
Thursday night marked the second time the government has failed to meet a reunification deadline imposed by Sabraw. Earlier this month, the government requested an extension to reunite children under five years old who had been separated from their parents. That goal was finally met several days late.
Lawyers for the government and the ACLU—which initially brought the lawsuit that lead to the reunification order—will return to court on Friday to determine how to proceed returning the remaining children to their families. According to Reuters, the ACLU also plans to argue that families should have at least one week after being reunited to consider their options—such as applying for asylum—before the government is allowed to deport them.