The federal government reported Thursday that it would meet a court-ordered deadline to reunite the last “eligible” migrant families separated at the Southwest border, but hundreds of children remained in federal custody as a result of a contentious immigration policy that has drawn international condemnation.
Officials with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency reunited 1,442 of the last group of children with their families and said they expected to complete all “eligible” reunifications by midnight Thursday, Pacific time.
“By the court deadline this evening, we are on track to reunite all eligible parents within ICE custody,” said Chris Meekins, chief of staff at the Department of Health and Human Services.
But in a day that saw government officials and community volunteers scrambling to bring families together, multiple reports of failed reunifications raised questions about whether the deadline had in fact been met. Further confusing the issue was a change in the way the government tallied its progress, with the latest report counting children rather than parents, a reversal from prior reports.
“The data is dynamic,” a government official said of the discrepancy in a conference call with reporters.
Even if Thursday’s deadline was met, the government’s work to address the effects of the family separation policy was far from over. The parents who were deemed eligible for reunification represent only about a third of all those who were separated from their children after crossing the border, a practice that began last summer and escalated in May.
At least 711 other parents of children older than 5 were not cleared to recover their children this week because they failed criminal background or parental verification checks. The parents of 46 children under 5 years of age were similarly excluded.
The parents of about 431 children appeared to have been deported without them, and the government has yet to find the parents. Their futures, along with those of at least 94 other children whose parents’ locations were ”under case file review,” according to court records, remain uncertain.
“The only deadline they are meeting is the one they have set for themselves,” said Lee Gelernt, lead counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a federal lawsuit challenging the family separations. “The government should not be getting applause for cleaning up their own mess, but moreover, they’re still not meeting the deadline for all the families.”