The US Justice Department told a federal judge that the government needs more time to “safely” reunite almost 3,000 kids with their parents.
US District Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego had ordered the US to return all children under age five to their parents by July 10 and all other minors by July 26.
“The government does not wish to unnecessarily delay reunification,” Justice Department lawyers told Sabraw. “At the same time, however, the government has a strong interest in ensuring that any release of a child from government custody occurs in a manner that ensures the safety of a child.”
US officials said that while they believe they’re in compliance with “all aspects” of the order, they want the deadlines modified because government agencies — including the Department of Health and Human Services — are following “time-consuming” procedures like weekslong evaluations of homes where the children would be placed.
The government filing appears to contradict a statement by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who said Thursday the US would return immigrant children under five by July 10 to comply with the court order. Azar said fewer than 3,000 children were separated, and fewer than 100 are under the age of five. DHS has located parents of the youngest children and moved them to detention centres closer to their kids so they can be reunited quickly after the refugee agency releases them, he said.
Before the US reunites a child with a parent, a painstaking process called a “safety and suitability analysis” is conducted to determine whether a parent is fit or doesn’t pose a danger to the child, Jonathan White, deputy director for children’s programmes at the
department’s Office of Refugee Resettlement, said in a court filing. Releasing a child without a careful review could “expose him or her to trafficking or abuse”, he said.
Children in custody and their parents are also undergoing DNA cheek swabs, which will take about a week to confirm a match, the US said.