Friday, July 6, 2018
SAN DIEGO (AP) — The Trump administration asked a judge today for more time to reunite families who were separated at the border under its "zero-tolerance" policy to prosecute every person who enters the country illegally.
Hours before a hearing in San Diego, the Justice Department filed papers seeking an extension of the deadline, which is July 10 for all parents with children under 5 and July 26 to reunite everyone else.
The administration says federal law requires it to ensure that children are safe and that requires more time. Administration officials also say that they won't be able to confirm a child's parentage by the deadline if DNA testing is inconclusive. They will need more time to collect DNA samples or other evidence from parents who have been released from government custody.
U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, set the deadline last week, writing that the "situation has reached a crisis level" and that the "chaotic circumstances" were of the government's own making. He scheduled Friday's hearing for an update on compliance with his order.
More than 2,000 children were separated from their parents after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in May that the zero tolerance was in full effect, even if it meant splitting families.
While parents were criminally prosecuted, children were placed in custody of the Health and Human Services Department. Trump reversed course on June 20 amid an international outcry, saying families should remain together.
On Thursday, Alex Azar, secretary of Health and Human Services, said less than 3,000 children are believed to have been separated, but that includes kids who may have lost parents along the journey, not just parents who were detained at the border. None had been transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement to be reunited with their parents.
In the court papers, the government said it has identified 101 children under 5 years old who were separated and is the midst of identifying older children. About 40 parents of children in the under-5 age group are in Homeland Security custody and another nine are in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service.