(Reuters) – The Trump administration said on Thursday it has reunified dozens of young migrant children with their parents after they had been separated when crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, hours before a deadline to explain whether it complied with a court order for reunifying families.
The government has until 3 p.m. PDT (2200 GMT) to explain to U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego how many children still must be reunited with their parents, and inform him if it met Tuesday’s deadline for reuniting children under five.
In a statement, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said that 57 of the 103 children covered by the court case had been reunified, as of 7 a.m. ET (1100 GMT) on Thursday.
The other 46 children were ineligible for reunification for various reasons, including that their parents had criminal histories, were in custody or had been deported, as well as for health reasons, the government said.
“Throughout the reunification process our goal has been the well-being of the children and returning them to a safe environment,” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement.
The officials said obstacles remained, but added: “We intend to continue our good faith efforts to reunify families.”
Sabraw has asked the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to propose penalties in the event he decides the deadline was missed.
In June, the judge ordered the government to reunite the youngest children separated from their parents by Tuesday, and all children by July 26.
The two sides were expected to return to court on Friday to map out steps for reuniting other children and parents.
“Some of our clients are finally starting to reunite with their parents, but the reunification process has been chaotic and has unequivocally come at a cost,” Beth Krause, a supervising lawyer at the Legal Aid Society’s Immigrant Youth Project, said in a statement.
The government has said it is taking care to ensure children are safe by checking parents’ criminal histories, testing DNA to prove family relationships and determining if adults are suitable as caregivers.
The ACLU has said that none of the steps would have been necessary if the government had never separated the families in the first place.
The Trump administration adopted its family separation policy as part of a broader effort to discourage illegal immigration. It buckled to intense political pressure and abandoned the policy in June.
Not all of the families who were separated at the border entered the country illegally.
Reporting by Tom Hals; Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen and Jonathan Stempel in New York and Susan Heavey in Washington, D.C.; Editing by Noeleen Walder, Lisa Shumaker and Jeffrey Benkoe