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

Four companies vying to open cannabis stores in locations across Chilliwack

Rezoning applications for non-medical cannabis outlets pending, and some will require variances

Christmas cheer, crafts and music at Chilliwack and Yarrow libraries

Make festive ornaments out of old books while enjoying Christmas music at Chilliwack libraries

Fleeing driver picks fight with Chilliwack police dog, loses

Good dog ‘Griff’ also locates large quantity of what police believe to be crystal meth in Abbotsford

Chilliwack company faces charges for 2017 abuse of chickens

CFIA investigation leads to 38 charges against Elite Farm Services and Ontario-based Sofina Foods

Water-filled ditch had pump going to prevent flooding in Chilliwack

City crews monitoring site on Ashwell Road after heavy rain hit Chilliwack Wednesday

Tommy Chong says Canada took wrong approach to pot legalization

He also talked about the likelihood of another Cheech and Chong film

Kazakstan’s U20 team takes 4-3 win over Lower Mainland university squad

Thursday night’s game is one of four the visitors are playing at the Langley Events Centre.

Fashion Fridays: How to change your beauty routine

Kim XO, lets you in on her style secrets each Fashion Friday on the Black Press Media Network

‘Both things are true:’ Science, Indigenous wisdom seek common ground

Reconciliation between Canada and First Nations is playing out not only in legislatures and courtrooms but in labs across the country

B.C. to move salmon farms out of coastal migration route

Broughton Archipelago plan set to start in spring of 2019

High winds force several BC Ferries sailing cancellations

Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay, Horseshoe Bay to Departure Bay, and Duke Point to Tsawwassen among closures

Facebook reveals bug gave apps unauthorized access to 6.8 million users’ photos

It’s believed up to 1,500 apps built by 876 developers had access to Facebook Stories, private photos

Lower-than-expected parcel volumes helping cut into backlog, says Canada Post

The Crown corporation says that’s largely because it is taking in fewer holiday parcels than expected

Trapped B.C. crash survivor celebrates second chance at life

“Life is good now. It’s good to be alive.”

Most Read