The Trump administration is asking a federal judge for an extension of the deadline set to reunify all of the migrant parents who were separated from their children at the U.S.-Mexico border.
In court documents filed late Thursday, the administration says it is working “diligently” and dedicating “immense resources and effort” to comply with a court order to reunify the families.
Last week, U.S. District Judge Dana M. Sabraw in San Diego ordered the government to return children under the age of 5 to their parents by next Tuesday. Older minors must be reunified with their parents by July 26.
But in the court filings, the government says it “may need clarification on or some relief from certain parts of the order, so that Defendants can safely reunite families.”
Judge Sabraw has scheduled a telephonic status conference for Friday afternoon with lawyers from the Justice Department and also from the American Civil Liberties Union, the group that sued the government in a class-action lawsuit over family separations. That lawsuit was filed even before Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the “zero-tolerance” policy in April, promising to prosecute all illegal border crossers.
The administration’s request for more time comes a day after Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told reporters that the government knows the identities and location of all the minors under the department’s care and will comply with the court order. Azar also called Judge Sabraw’s deadlines “extreme.”
The government’s court documents describe an extensive and painstaking effort to collect information between the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services; verify the parentage; and assess the parents’ “fitness” to receive their children.
The government is using DNA testing to verify that parents are related to the children they claim.
In his comments on Thursday, Secretary Azar said that “under 3,000” minors were separated from their parents. The court documents say that the government has identified “approximately 101 minors under age 5” under the care of HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement.