WASHINGTON - The Trump administration said all eligible children under five taken from their parents because of zero-tolerance immigration policies have reunited with their mothers or fathers.
Of 103 toddlers brought to the U.S. illegally in most of May and June, 57 have been reunited with their parents.
Forty-six determined to be ineligible because of safety concerns will remain in the custody of Health and Human Services.
“Our goal has been the well-being of the children and returning them to a safe environment. Our agencies’ careful vetting procedures helped prevent the reunification of children with an alleged murderer, an adult convicted of child cruelty, and adults determined not to be the parent of the child,” a joint statement by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the heads of HHS and Homeland Security said Thursday.
A federal court had given the Trump administration a Tuesday deadline to reunite the children with their parents.
But officials missed the deadline because of the time it took to determine whether the youngsters could be safely returned.
Along with allegations of crime, officials said some of the parents have already been deported, while others are in jail. The parent of one child has simply disappeared.
Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union said the administration has not properly explained why it was unable to carry out the process to identify parents by the Tuesday deadline. The ACLU said it is considering its next step.
Some of the reunions between young children who were seized from their parents have been heartbreaking instead of heartwarming.
Witnesses in Phoenix said some toddlers did not recognize their mothers, tried to get away from them, and cried out for government workers who had been watching them.
Kids who loved to talk before being separated are now silent. Some who were toilet trained are back to wearing diapers.
The Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy meant families who crossed into the U.S. illegally from Central America should go straight to jail. But children are not allowed in jail and were held in separate facilities. Many were caged behind wire fences.
A national outcry, including from many of his fellow Republicans, prompted President Trump to sign an executive order stopping family separations.
Most of the illegal immigrants try to enter the U.S. through Mexico to escape gang violence and the lack of opportunities for a better life at home.
But Thursday’s joint statement from Sessions and the others said the president is determined to end what they call “lawlessness” at the U.S. border.
“Our message has been clear all along: Do not risk your own life or the life of your child by attempting to enter the United States illegally. Apply lawfully and wait your turn.”
The administration is facing an even more daunting court-ordered deadline to reunite about 2,000 older children with their parents by July 26.