Immigrant parents who reveled after joyful reunions with their young children spoke Wednesday of the traumatic impact of being separated from their sons and daughters for months after they were taken from them at the USA border.
In trying to meet the first deadline, the government began with a list of 102 children potentially eligible to be reunited and whittled that to 75 through screening that included DNA testing done by swabbing the inside of the cheek.
These safety concerns include parents who had a serious criminal history, those who were determined not to be the parent of the child, or those who were found to be abusive. Nine adults are in federal custody for other offenses, two are in state jails for other offenses and the location of one adult believed to be the parent of a separated child has been unknown for more than a year. "Of course, there remains a tremendous amount of hard work and similar obstacles facing our teams in reuniting the remaining families". The government adopted its family separation policy as part of a broader effort to discourage illegal immigration earlier this year.
"Their statement is vague at a minimum", ACLU lawyer Lee Gelernt said, noting that a San Diego judge had set a deadline of Tuesday for reuniting those children. In the same order addressing the youngest migrant children, Sabraw also mandated that children aged 5 through 17 - the rest of the almost 3,000, in other words - must be returned to their parents by July 26.
Gisela, a Mexican citizen, said she only spoke to her son once while she was detained in Texas and he was at a shelter for children in Phoenix.
In all, the administration reunified 57 of the 103 undocumented children it separated, the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement.
Most of the parents reunited with the youngest children this week were being released from custody on ankle monitoring devices to await immigration hearings.
Sabraw, an appointee of President George W. Bush, over two weeks issued a nationwide injunction on future family separations, unless the parent was deemed unfit or didn't want to be with the child.
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The separations sparked national and global outrage that crossed party lines and including warnings from health experts that taking children from their parents would incur significant emotional harm. The Department of Justice said the child, who has been in custody for more than a year, may be a US citizen.
The government still must reunify as many as 2,900 children over the age of 5 with their parents, based on initial estimates that up to 3,000 kids had been separated from mothers and fathers at the border.
"Each step of our process is necessary to protect children", HHS official Chris Meekins, chief of staff in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, told reporters on a press call. He alleged that the parents only wanted all along for their kid to stay in the USA, and that is why they agreed to leave without them.
The Trump administration's zero-tolerance policy meant families who crossed into the us illegally from Central America should go straight to jail.
"There's no question that the parties are meeting and conferring", Sabraw said at a court hearing Monday. They said some of their parents had already been deported.
In Grand Rapids, the children were "absolutely thrilled to be with their parents again".
ACLU lawyers said regardless of the reunifications, the government missed the court-ordered deadline and they would be deciding how to address the noncompliance with the court.
The ACLU asked for the government to provide a daily report of reunified families to the court starting next week and for additional details to prevent the government from missing future deadlines.
He 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 from February.