The government will miss Tuesday’s deadline for reuniting dozens of young illegal immigrant children with their parents, a Justice Department lawyer said Monday — though the judge who put himself in charge of overseeing the process said that still marks solid “progress.”
Of the 102 children under age 5 who were supposed to be reunited by Tuesday, the government says it should be able to connect at least 54 of them with their parents, Sarah Fabian, the Justice Department lawyer, said in court.
In every one of those cases the government will then immediately release the illegal immigrant families out into the communities, Ms. Fabian said, arguing their hands are tied by logistics.
For the remaining nearly 50 children, some of their parents have already been deported, while others were released and have already disappeared into the shadows of the illegal immigrant population, and the government has struggled to track them down. Several other children can’t be reunited with their parents because the adults have serious criminal records, the government said.
Judge Dana Sabraw, who ordered the Tuesday reunification deadline, said he was still encouraged by the numbers and by the government’s push to get things done.
“This is real progress and I’m optimistic that many of these families will be reunited tomorrow and we’ll have a very clear understanding as to who has not been reunited, why not, and a time frame in place,” he said.
Ms. Fabian said even more than the 54 could be released depending on whether Judge Sabraw orders the government to short-circuit its usual checks it makes before releasing children to sponsors in the U.S.
Under normal circumstances the government said it would perform extensive checks on all those in the household where an illegal immigrant child being released from federal custody would end up.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the children, urged the judge to order the process be sped up, saying the children need to be returned to parents as quickly as possible.
Lee Gelernt, the ACLU lawyer handling the case, said the government is taking the reunification demands seriously, though he said he thinks the government can do better than the 54.
In particularly, he said, parents who’ve already been released into the U.S. and disappeared could be found.
“We just don’t know how much effort the government has made to find released parents,” he said.