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Trump administration reunites just over half of children under 5 with parents; the rest are ineligible

Brittny Mejia, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES -- Early Thursday, the Trump administration said officials had reunited 57 of 103 young migrant children separated from their parents, but have not returned another 46 for reasons including deportation and criminal histories of some of the adults.

The federal government began its first major wave of reuniting migrant children with their parents on Tuesday, the deadline set by U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw for those children younger than 5. Sabraw ordered the reunifications after a class-action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Of 103 children younger than 5 who were covered by the court case, 57 had been reunited as of 7 a.m., officials said. Forty-six were "acknowledged by the court to be ineligible for reunification or determined by HHS, DHS and DOJ to be ineligible under court-approved criteria."

"As of this morning, the initial reunifications were completed. Throughout the reunification process our goal has been the well-being of the children and returning them to a safe environment," Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions said in a joint statement. "Of course, there remains a tremendous amount of hard work and similar obstacles facing our teams in reuniting the remaining families. The Trump administration does not approach this mission lightly, and we intend to continue our good faith efforts to reunify families."

Twenty-two of the 46 were ineligible due to safety concerns posed by the adults, including serious criminal histories and adults determined not to be a parent, according to HHS. There were 24 not eligible due to circumstances of the adults, including 12 adults who have been deported, nine who are in custody of the U.S. Marshals Service, two in the custody of state jails and one whose location has been unknown for over a year.

Trump administration officials appeared to soften their hard-line stance on how the detainees are treated, saying the parents of children younger than 5 would largely be released with ankle bracelet monitors rather than being detained indefinitely as a family. They declined to say whether they would similarly release the parents of the much larger group of 2,000 to 3,000 children ages 5 to 17.

The same judge has ordered that thousands of older children should be reunited by July 26.

The administration's shift to rely on ankle bracelets followed an order issued Monday by a federal judge in Los Angeles, rejecting the Justice Department's request to modify a long-standing legal settlement outlining how long immigrant minors may be detained. The 1997 agreement, known as the Flores settlement, requires that minors be released "without unnecessary delay."

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In court Tuesday, Justice Department attorneys told the San Diego judge that they believed the two orders still allowed the administration to ask parents detained at the border to either waive the right to remain with their children, as recognized in the San Diego case, or waive the Flores settlement's maximum 20-day limit that a child can be forced to spend in immigration detention.

In Thursday's joint statement, officials stated that the "American people gave this administration a mandate to end the lawlessness at the border, and President Trump is keeping his promise to do exactly that."

"Our message has been clear all along: Do not risk your own life or the life of your child by attempting to enter the United States illegally. Apply lawfully and wait your turn," the officials said. "The American immigration system is the most generous in the world, but we are a nation of laws and we intend to continue enforcing those laws. Establishing the immigration system demanded of our political leaders by the American people for more than 30 years -- one that serves the national interest -- will allow our nation to further realize the foundation of freedom, safety, and prosperity we inherited from our founders."

(c)2018 Los Angeles Times

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