More than 700 immigrant children are still separated from their parents, months after they were seized at the US border and weeks after court-ordered deadlines for reunions.
More than 40 of the children are under 5 years old.
Filings in court last week gave the numbers of children, separated and held under the Trump Administration’s “zero tolerance” policy implemented in April. They were taken after parents were intercepted, some of their way to ports of entry to claim asylum.
In late June, Judge Dana Sabraw gave the Administration 14 days to reunite the under-5s with parents and 30 days for all children. However, in court hearings after the deadline, Justice Department lawyers have said some reunions are not possible — in many cases because parents have already been deported.
In the latest weekly status report, filed Thursday, the Government lawyers say 1,923 out of 2,654 children separated from parents have been reunified.
The report said 528 children, including 23 under-5s are in Government custody. An additional 203, including 19 under-5s, have been released from detention: they may have been released to a relative or family friend or may have turned 18 while in custody.
The Government statement to the American Civil Liberties Union, representing immigrant, said 412 parents have been deported without their children. The Trump Administration claims all but four have been contacted, but the ACLU says only 231 parents were reached by phone or in person.
Of the number cited by the ACLU, 183 have indicated what they want to do going forward, either reunion or allowing the child to continue to seek residence in the US. Ten have been reunited with parents in their home countries.
The Justice Department lawyers said the discrepancy in numbers is due to out-of-date information or children being released from Government custody.
The ACLU also raised the issue of parents who say they were coerced into accepting deportation. American Immigration Lawyers Association Executive Director Ben Johnson spoke of the “really ugly reality of coercion and intimidation”:
This really is a systematic and intentional effort to take children away from their parents and hold them hostage in order to sabotage their right to seek asylum in the United States and to then use them as a threat to [others] who are contemplating coming to the United States to apply for asylum.
This kind of abuse is only possible in our immigration system because it just does not have the adequate protections to guard against this kind of conduct and abuse.