A federal judge in California says she will appoint an independent monitor to look into conditions for immigrant children at U.S border facilities in Texas following reports of poor conditions.
Judge Dolly Gee in Los Angeles said it "seems like there continues to be persistent problems" with the care of children in government custody at facilities in Texas' Rio Grande Valley.
The judge said there was a "disconnect" between the assessment of the conditions by U.S. government monitors and immigrant parents, and said the court-appointed monitor could give an "objective viewpoint." Complaints from immigrant children and parents have included spoiled food, insufficient water and frigid conditions.
The ruling comes as U.S. officials seek to carry out the order of a separate court that mandated the reunion of all eligible children who were separated from their parents after entering the country illegally.
U.S. officials said Friday they reunited all eligible children but said many others were not eligible because the parents had been released from immigration custody, are in their home countries or chose not to be reunited. In some cases, government lawyers said the parents are criminals or unfit to care for children.
The Justice Department said in a court filing Thursday afternoon in San Diego that more than 1,400 children 5 years and older had been reunited. Another 378 were released in what it calls "appropriate circumstances," meaning they were turned over to sponsors who can properly care for them.
However, 700 children are still in government custody and their fates are uncertain.
Immigration attorneys said some of the parents who returned home alone may have been led by the government to believe that going back to their own country was the only way they could see their kids again.
Lawyers for the America Civil Liberties Union say they have advocates on the ground in such places as Honduras and Guatemala and will investigate that allegation.
"The government shouldn't be proud of the work they're doing on reunification," Lee Gelernt of the ACLU said Thursday. "We created this cruel, inhumane policy ... now we're trying to fix it in every way we can and make these families whole."
Under President Donald Trump's "zero-tolerance" policy, families who illegally crossed into the United States from Mexico in most of April and May were automatically detained. Children were placed in government care facilities.
Trump signed an executive order rescinding the family separations after a nationwide outcry, including from many fellow Republicans.
A federal judge in San Diego gave officials two deadlines to reunite children.
Many of the parents have been given electronic ankle bracelets that monitor their location after being reunited with their children, so they will not skip future hearings.