Ever Reyes Mejia’s 3-year-old son is loaded into a car after they were reunited at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office building in Grand Rapidson Tuesday, July 10, 2018. (Cory Morse/The Grand Rapids Press via AP)

U.S. government falls short of deadline to reunite kids, parents

More than 2,000 children were reportedly separated from their parents after crossing the Southern U.S. border as part of an immigration strategy by the Trump administration.

Some immigrant toddlers are back in the arms of their parents, but others remained in holding facilities away from relatives as federal officials fell short of meeting a court-ordered deadline to reunite dozens of youngsters forcibly separated from their families at the border.

In Grand Rapids, Michigan, Ever Reyes Mejia walked out of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement centre Tuesday, carrying his beaming son and the boy’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles backpack. The boy was secured in a booster seat, and father and son were driven away.

Another boy and a girl who had been in temporary foster care were reunited with their Honduran fathers at the centre about three months after they were split up.

The three fathers were “just holding them and hugging them and telling them that everything was fine and that they were never going to be separated again,” said immigration lawyer Abril Valdes. The children were “absolutely thrilled to be with their parents again.”

Late last month, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego set a 14-day deadline to reunite children under 5 with their parents and a 30-day deadline for older children.

It wasn’t immediately clear how many children left detention facilities Tuesday or how many remain.

Related: Judge: Separated families must be reunited within 30 days

Related: New GOP plan: Hold kids longer at border – but with parents

In trying to meet the first deadline, the government began with a list of 102 children potentially eligible to be reunited and whittled that to 75 through screening that included DNA testing done by swabbing the inside of the cheek.

Of those 75, Justice Department attorneys told the court the government would guarantee 38 would be back with their parents by the end of Tuesday. They said an additional 17 could also join their parents if DNA results arrived and a criminal background check on a parent was completed by day’s end.

Government attorneys, meanwhile, told a federal judge that the Trump administration would not meet the deadline for 20 other children under 5 because it needed more time to track down parents who have already been deported or released into the U.S.

Sabraw showed little appetite for giving more time to the government unless it could show good reasons in specific cases.

“These are firm deadlines. They’re not aspirational goals,” the judge said Tuesday.

Asked about the missed deadline, the president said: “Well, I have a solution. Tell people not to come to our country illegally. That’s the solution.”

The government defended its screening, saying it discovered parents with serious criminal histories, five adults whose DNA tests showed they were not parents of the children they claimed to have, and one case of credible child abuse.

“Our process may not be as quick as some would like, but there is no question it is protecting children,” said Chris Meekins, a Health and Human Services Department official helping to direct the process.

American Civil Liberties Union attorney Lee Gelernt, whose organization filed the lawsuit that forced the administration’s hand, said he was “both thrilled and disappointed” with the government’s work on the deadline.

“Things have taken a real step forward,” Gelernt said.

At a bus station in Phoenix on Tuesday night, a 22-year-old woman who only gave her first name, Gisela, for safety concerns, said she had been apart from her 4-year-old son for over a month after presenting herself at a port of entry in Texas to seek asylum.

Gisela, a Mexican citizen, said she only spoke to her son once while she was detained in Texas and he was at a shelter for children in Phoenix.

Immigration authorities brought Gisela to Arizona about three days ago and the two were reunited Tuesday.

“He was happy. I was happy,” she said.

In El Paso, Texas, three fathers from Central America were reunited with children under 5 and released Tuesday night to an independent shelter for immigrants and asylum seekers.

The administration faces a second, bigger deadline — July 26 — to reunite perhaps 2,000 or so older children with their families. Many are being held in facilities thousands of miles apart.

A Guatemalan man said his 6-year-old son feared he was dead after U.S. authorities separated the pair in May in El Paso, Texas. Hermelindo Che Coc, 31, said the boy cried on the phone with him from the shelter and asked whether he still loved him.

“I’m asking God for him to be in my arms as soon as possible,” Che Coc, told reporters through tears Tuesday before attending a required check-in with immigration authorities in Los Angeles, where he was told to get a passport and return in October. “Without him, I can’t be happy.”

In ordering an end to the separation of families, the president said they should instead be detained together. But the government does not have the room: ICE has three family detention centres with space for 3,000 people, and they are already at or near capacity, though the Trump administration is trying to line up space at military bases.

On Monday, a federal judge in Los Angeles emphatically rejected the Trump administration’s efforts to detain immigrant families for an extended period. A longtime court settlement says children who cross the border illegally cannot be detained for more than 20 days.

___

Householder reported from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Associated Press writers Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar in Washington; Robin McDowell in Minneapolis; Julie Watson in San Diego; Michael Tarm in Chicago; Brian Melley in Los Angeles; Amy Taxin in Santa Ana, Calif.; Nomaan Merchant in Houston; and Corey Williams in Detroit contributed to this report.

Elliot Spagat And Mike Householder, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

UPDATE: Several fires burning in Lower Similkameen

At least one fire near Keremeos was caused by lightening

911 jams causes panic among residents

RDOS chair received several calls and texts from panicked residents unable to get through to 911

Update: Lightning sparks blaze above Summerland

Firefighters are battling the small fire from the area that occurred Tuesday shortly after 7 p.m.

Lightning strikes across B.C. Interior

Residents are being asked to go inside until last rumble of thunder

Firefighters respond to roadside brush fire

Fire next to Highway 97 being brought under control.

Trudeau asks transport minister to tackle Greyhound’s western pullout

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he’s asked Transport Minister Marc Garneau to find solutions in Greyhound Canada’s absence.

Lightning strikes West Kelowna condo

Fire crews were called to a building on Carrington Road Tuesday night

Lightning sparks wildfires in Vernon

Tuesday night storm causes wildfire in BX and residential fire in East Hill

Crash closes Highway 5A in both directions

A collision has shut down Highway 5A about 22 kilometres south of the junction with Highway 97C

UPDATE: Smoke rising from Okanagan Mountain Park hills

Lightning may have sparked a fire in the hills across from Peachland

UPDATE: Crews battle wildfire near Big White

Joe Rich Fire Department responding alongside Big White Fire Department and provincial crews.

Hub for mental health and addictions treatment opens at B.C. hospital

St. Paul’s Hospital HUB is an acute medical unit that includes 10 patient beds

Pike Mountain fire continues to grow – quadruples in 24 hours

Fire threatens area consumed in 2017 by a 3,500 hectare blaze

Vernon Knights hire Van Horlick

New head coach of Junior B franchise in Armstrong

Most Read