As reported in earlier Updates, the president instituted a policy of separating immigrant children and parents when they enter the US at the southern border in order to deter people from trying to enter the country illegally. The children were put into the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and were sent to various facilities across the country to be housed while their parents were detained separately by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Although the president later reversed the policy of family separation, there are more than 2000 children who have been separated from their parents.
On June 26, a federal court ordered that children under age five be reunited with their families by July 10, and that all other children be reunited with their families by July 26. The administration did not meet the first deadline; only about half of the young children were reunited with their parents. The administration was using DNA tests to identify young children and to ensure that they were not reunited with a purported parent who is not actually the parent. They were also checking to see whether parents might be abusive.
In a July 13 statement HHS said that it has identified 2,551 minors 5 to 17 years of age in the department’s custody who could potentially have been separated from a parent at the time of entry into the United States and therefore could potentially be eligible for reunification with a parent in the custody of DHS. To speed up the process, DNA tests will not be used for older children, as they should be able to identify themselves. See HHS Submits Updated Plan for Reuniting Migrant Children with Parents (Politico, 7/15/18).
Meanwhile, another federal court refused to grant the administration’s request to change a current judicial settlement (the Flores Agreement) that forbids children to be held in detention facilities for more than 20 days. If children could be detained longer, the administration would detain parents and children together until their immigration hearings, which usually take place after a period much longer than 20 days.
In a related matter, on July 16 the federal judge handling the reunification case temporarily halted the deportation of families that have been recently reunited. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which represents the separated family members, requested this order because they had reason to believe that the administration planned immediate deportations of reunified families. In some cases, the children of parents who can be deported may be eligible to stay in the US, and the judge agreed that parents need time to carefully decide whether to have their children deported along with them. See Judge Temporarily Halts Trump Admin from Deporting Reunited Families (The Hill, 07/16/18).