Published: Fri, July 13, 2018
Worldwide | By Myra Stephens

Nearly half of migrant children under 5 remain separated from families

Nearly half of migrant children under 5 remain separated from families

The American Civil Liberties Union sued on behalf of a woman who was separated from her child.

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The Trump administration is missing its court-imposed deadline to reunite 102 young immigrant children with their parents.

The administration has been scrambling to reunify the families this week to meet the first of two deadlines set by a federal judge in San Diego who ordered thousands of children be given back to their immigrant parents.

As daunting as the process appeared in court, this week's deadline concerns less than 5 percent of the children separated from their parents in recent months.

The Donald Trump administration has faced domestic and worldwide outcry over its announced "zero tolerance" policy of arresting all those who cross the border illegally and separating parents from the children they brought with them.

Immigrant parents are overjoyed to be reunited with their children but deeply scarred by being torn apart from them for months.

On a phone call with reporters Thursday morning, Chris Meekins, chief of staff of HHS's Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, was blunt about what would happen to the children whose parents were deemed "ineligible" for reunification.

Of the kids under the age of 5 deemed ineligible for reunification, 12 have parents who were already deported by the USA government.

The families that have been reunited were also released from detention while they undergo immigration proceedings, which could ultimately lead to them being deported, so long as they do not commit crimes and do attend court hearings and meetings with immigration agents. In court earlier this week, officials said it is possible that one young child held in federal custody for more than a year is a USA citizen. Carrying banners, and in many cases surrounded by their own children, members of Unidad Latina en Accion, Connecticut Students for a Dream and other groups decried family separations at the border. "They're not aspirational goals", the judge said Tuesday, the day of the initial deadline, saying the government still had hours in the day to reunify the youngest migrants affected by the administration's policy. The children were "absolutely thrilled to be with their parents again". The father said he was still shaken by the ordeal he had to go through just to speak to his boy while he was in government custody.

Eleven adults have serious criminal histories, including charges or convictions for child cruelty, kidnapping, murder, human smuggling and domestic violence, according to HHS. But make no mistake about it: "the government missed the deadline even for these 57 children", lawyer Lee Gelernt said.

"But until I have both my children with me, I don't know what I will do", she said.

If the government failed to reunite all the children under 5 with their parents by Thursday, Sabraw asked the ACLU to suggest penalties he could levy against the government. A spokesperson for the agency said it could not provide more details about what indication there is that this child and parent may be USA citizens, how the child came to be in federal custody or where the child is now sheltered. That effectively limited detention to 20 days - a timeline set under a 1997 court settlement known as Flores - for migrant adults apprehended with children. Eleven children's parents were also in custody for other alleged criminal offenses.

The Trump administration was left with few options after a series of court orders.

The practice of separating families has been part of the Trump administration's "zero-tolerance" immigration policy, which refers anyone detained at the border for prosecution, including those seeking asylum in the United States.

An additional 24 children were declared not eligible because of various circumstances of the adults - 12 have been deported, nine are in custody of the U.S. Marshals Service, two are in the custody of state jails and the location of one has been unknown for over a year.

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