The Trump administration on Thursday said all eligible children under five years old who were separated from their parents at a U.S. border crossing have been reunited, two days after a court-mandated deadline.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 57 children out of 103 in HHS custody were reunified with their parents.
A federal judge in California previously ordered the government to return all children age 4 and younger to their parents by July 10.
“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,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenElection gives Trump a chance to hit the reset button with Mexico Dem lawmaker: Restaurant gave me free food to support fight against Trump policy Bartender cursed at Stephen Miller as he picked up takeout sushi: Washington Post MORE, and Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsDOJ letter listing subpoenaed reporters did not name NYT journalist DOJ unveils proposal giving feds more power to limit opioid production Senate confirms Trump DOJ nominee with ties to Russian bank MORE said in a joint statement.
HHS said 46 other children were not eligible for reunification. Some of the parents haven’t cleared background checks, or they have criminal records, or have been deported without their children.
The Trump administration separated the families as part of its “zero tolerance” strategy to criminally prosecute all immigrants who cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally, including those who are seeking asylum.
In a call with reporters, DHS’s Matthew Albence said the 12 adults who have already been deported had an opportunity to take their children with them, but declined. DHS is attempting to contact those individuals, Albence said.
Government officials touted the screening process for parents, including background checks and DNA tests. According to HHS, the screening has saved children from being put in potentially dangerous situations, including with adults have charges or convictions for child cruelty, kidnapping, murder, human smuggling, or domestic violence.
As the government scrambled to meet the July 10 deadline, HHS faced criticism that the screening efforts were slowing down the reunification process.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the parents in a class-action lawsuit, said it was still deciding what to recommend to the court for the government’s missed deadline.
“If in fact 57 children have been reunited because of the lawsuit, we could not be more happy for those families,” Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project said in a statement.
“But make no mistake about it: the government missed the deadline even for these 57 children. Accordingly, by the end of the day we will decide what remedies to recommend to the court for the non-compliance,” Gelernt said.
The administration faces a July 26 deadline to reunite the children older than 5. HHS said they will be updating the ACLU later today on the exact number of those children they have in custody.
HHS has previously said there are “under 3,000” such children.