(CNN) – The Trump administration is expected to reunite the bulk of the youngest migrant children separated from their parents at the border by Thursday.
“We anticipate that, as of the early morning on July 12, we will have reunified all children under age 5 who are eligible under the court order for reunification with parents in the United States,” an administration official said.
The reunions — ordered nationwide last month by a federal judge in San Diego — have come in piecemeal tranches this week, as the government has scrambled to pinpoint the children eligible for return to their parents.
US District Judge Dana Sabraw originally ordered all children under 5 reunited by July 10. The government initially identified 102 children who fell in that category, but the number has slightly decreased in recent days, as Sabraw’s order has essentially functioned as a judicially mandated audit of the morass of systems used by different federal agencies.
The Justice Department told Sabraw on Tuesday officials had found that some parents were unfit for reunification because they had criminal histories, some had already been deported and still others had not yet been located. The administration uncovered one case in which the “parent’s location has been unknown for more than a year,” according to a recent court filing.
The judge has acknowledged that after further investigation some parents may not fall within the class of those eligible for reunification with children at this point, but he reiterated to the Justice Department at a court hearing Tuesday that the timetables he had ordered for reunifying families were “firm deadlines, not aspirational goals.”
As a result, he told the Trump administration, he expected that 63 children would be reunited with parents by Tuesday’s deadline, a number that includes four who had been reunited beforehand.
The administration said Tuesday that it had completed 38 of those reunions, including the four done previously. Another 12 parents may be eligible for reunions but have already been deported. They may be reunited with children once they are located and contacted.
Whether the American Civil Liberties Union, which had filed the lawsuit against the administration over separated migrant families, will raise concerns about any individual outstanding cases before the next court hearing Friday remains to be seen. But thus far, the ACLU has not asked the judge for anything other than to keep the government on a tight leash with regular hearings and deadlines.
The looming and perhaps more significant question is how the administration will handle the much larger group of children 5 and older who are required to be reunited by July 26.
On that front, the judge has noted “there is a lot of work to do” on the older group of children and has ordered the Justice Department to provide an update Thursday on how many need to be reunited with parents.