The Trump administration asked a judge Friday to extend the deadline for reunifying families separated at the border in cases where the government suspects the adults may not really be parents of the children they’re claiming.
The request came in court papers filed in advance of an afternoon conference call among the lawyers.
“My opinion is that some relaxing of the Court’s deadlines is needed to allow HHS, on a case-by-case basis, to complete processes that HHS determines are necessary to make informed class membership determinations and to protect the welfare of the children presently in ORR custody,” Jonathan White, a senior official at the federal Health and Human Services Department, said in the filing.
ORR is the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the division of HHS that, under the law, cares for illegal immigrant children deemed to be unaccompanied, at least until they can be placed with sponsors in the U.S.
The judge had set a deadline of next Tuesday for the government to reunite all children under age 5 who were separated from their parents after they crossed the U.S.-Mexico border.
The judge gave another 15 days after that to reunite the other juveniles in custody.
Those strict deadlines have sent the government scrambling to meet them.
It’s identified 101 children under age 5 who were separated, and more than 2,000 others ages 5 to 17 who might qualify as separated.
The government is rushing to complete DNA testing on both the children and purported parents to make sure the claims are valid.
But they’re also doing background checks to make sure the children should be released to the parents. In the first 101 cases of children under age 5, there have been two parents who had kidnapping and rape or child cruelty histories.
Another 12 cases need more assessment, Mr. White said.
In cases where parents are still in government custody reunification shouldn’t be delayed, but there are cases where the government has already released the parents into the interior of the U.S.
In those instances HHS says it needs to be sure the environment is safe for the children.
Standard procedure requires checking backgrounds of the people in the home, but the government says that may not be possible in all cases before the judge’s deadline.
The government asked the judge for “clarification” about how strictly it must adhere to both its policies and the deadlines.
“The government does not wish to unnecessarily delay reunifications or burden class members. 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 that child,” the government said in its legal brief.