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The struggle to track and match parents with children under 5 suggests the government may have more difficulties in meeting a July 26 deadline for reuniting the remaining 2,000 older children with adults from whom they were separated.
One immigration advocate told Reuters she was still awaiting details on when two under-five children would be back with their parents. The administration cited difficulties locating dozens of the youngest children's parents, including at least 19 who had already undergone deportation proceedings.
"That is going to be a significant undertaking", U.S. Judge Dana Sabraw said on Tuesday of the next deadline.
Six of the 102 children are not eligible for reunification because they have a parent with a criminal history or were separated from someone who is not their parent.
In a call with reporters, DHS's Matthew Albence said the 12 adults who have already been deported had an opportunity to take their children with them, but declined.
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McConaghy also said that the USA attorney has been pressing the government to reunite J.S.R. and V.F.B. with their parents before the court-ordered deadline.
"Let me be clear: HHS could have transferred every child out of our care to a parent who is now in DHS custody today if we did not take into account child safety or whether the adult is actually the parent", Chris Meekins of Health and Human Services Department said in the call.
The Department of Justice asked Gee to alter a 1997 settlement, which provides the framework for how to handle detained immigrant children, so it could detain families together for longer periods. The children's parents appeared in court through a video chat from a detention facility in Pearsall, Texas. Under the new guidelines, DNA testing can be used only if the government has a specific concern about a child's parentage, or if it would speed up the reunification process.
For the others, the case outcomes remain unclear: Meekins said one adult has been charged with human smuggling, another faces domestic violence charges, one father has an outstanding drunken driving charge in Florida, and another adult is wanted for murder in Guatemala.
"Our agencies' careful vetting procedures helped prevent the reunification of children with an alleged murderer, an adult convicted of child cruelty, and adults determined not to be the parent of the child", they wrote.
"Make no mistake about it: The government missed the deadline even for these 57 children", Gelernt said.
Most families had been divided as part of the Trump administration's now-reversed practice of separating those who crossed the border illegally - though some had also been separated before the policy became official, and some had been separated after seeking asylum legally at official ports of entry into the United States.
According to court filings, both children were forcibly taken from their parents at the border and brought to Noank Community Support Services in CT, where they are now being cared for. Physicians and others blasted the policy and warned about lasting psychological damage to children and parents. The bleeding still did not stop: "They were refusing to give me sanitary towels, I needed like 30 per day and we were given three per day", said Pagoada. Nine adults are in federal custody for other offenses, two are in state jails for other offenses and the location of one adult believed to be the parent of a separated child has been unknown for more than a year.