The Justice Department asked a federal judge this afternoon to extend the court mandated deadlines for reuniting nearly 3,000 migrant children who were separated from their parents while crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
Attorneys for the U.S. government claimed the court mandate for returning all children under age 5 to their parents by July 10 and all other children by July 26 does not account for the time required to verify and vet each parent.
“The government does not wish to unnecessarily delay reunification,” lawyers for the Justice Department said in their response to the court. “At the same time, however, the government has a strong interest in ensuring that any release of a child from government custody occurs in a manner that ensures the safety of the child.”
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Thursday that his agency is using DNA testing to confirm parent-child relationships for nearly 3,000 children.
The Justice Department argued that inconclusive DNA tests can delay reunification, as can the work necessary to make sure children are going to parents who are fit to care for them.
Alternatively, the court could clarify its mandate by allowing the vetting process to be shortened, the government argued.
“If the court concludes that HHS must truncate (the vetting) process to meet court-ordered deadlines, then the court should so order in a manner that provides HHS full clarity,” the government lawyers argued in the filing.
The response also asked the judge to clarify how many children it should be seeking to reunify.
President Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy requiring every immigrant crossing the border illegally to be prosecuted and therefore separated from any children went into effect in early May, but HHS interpreted its mandate to mean that children separated before the policy went into effect should also be reunited. Trump signed an executive order June 20 ending separation.
The government also argued that it was too difficult to find parents who have already been deported back to their home countries, asking the judge to extend the timeline to find those parents or exclude them from the population who must be reunified.
This is a humanitarian disaster of the Trump administration’s failing. They separated kids from parents, and didn’t even create a database or any other mechanism to reunite.
The hearing before the judge is happening now, and the government just told the judge that only half of the roughly 100 children under age 5 separated from their parents will be reunified by July 10 deadline. 20 pct of parents have been released and their whereabouts largely unknown.
I hope the judge sanctions the US government.
DHS & HHS SHOULD BE INVESTIGATED FOR DESTROYING IMMIGRANT FAMILY RECORDS
Washington— The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) should be investigated for violating the Federal Records Act through the apparent disappearance and destruction of records linking immigrant children to their parents, according to a complaint filed today by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) with the Archivist of the United States. The complaint was also sent to the departments’ respective inspectors general.
This morning, the New York Times reported that “[r]ecords linking children to their parents have disappeared, and in some cases have been destroyed, according to two officials of the Department of Homeland Security, leaving the authorities struggling to identify connections between family members.” In hundreds of cases, Customs and Border Protection agents allegedly deleted the initial records in which parents and children were listed together as a family.
This would be a blatant violation of the Federal Records Act (FRA), which ensures the documentation and preservation of government records.
“Rarely, if ever, has a potential violation of the FRA had such grave implications,” CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said. “The reportedly destroyed records bear directly on the lives of thousands of immigrants seeking entry to our country, threatening the permanent separation of parents from their children.”
The judge will to order the Trump admin to give the @ACLU a list of all 100 immigrant children under 5yrs old by Saturday evening, including info on whether they will be reunited by Tuesday (and if so, why not). Then the Judge will decide Monday if he will change the deadline.
— Alice Ollstein (@AliceOllstein) July 6, 2018
JUST IN: Federal judge agrees to delay next meeting about extending deadline to reunite 101 children under the age of 5 until Monday because Trump administration lawyer has “dog sitting responsibilities” this weekend.@JuliaEAinsley
— Peter Alexander (@PeterAlexander) July 6, 2018