The American Civil Liberties Union said it was reviewing the government’s statement and would comment later.
The zero-tolerance policy calls for the criminal prosecution of anyone caught crossing the border illegally. Because parents can’t take their children to jail, they were separated. The move caused an international uproar. At least 2,300 children were separated from about 2,200 adults until the executive order was signed. Federal officials have been scrambling to reunite the children under a tight, two-week deadline set by the judge.
The administration was under a court mandate to reunify families separated between early May and June 20, when President Donald Trump signed an executive order that stopped separations. The ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of a woman who had been separated from her child, and U.S. District Court Judge Dana Sabraw ordered all children reunited with their parents.“The American immigration system is the most generous in the world, but we are a nation of laws and we intend to continue enforcing those laws,” the heads of the three agencies said.
Establishing the immigration system demanded of our political leaders by the American people for more than 30 years—one that serves the national interest—will allow our nation to further realize the foundation of freedom, safety, and prosperity we inherited from our Founders.”Part of the issue, administration officials said, is that the systems were not set up to reunify parents with their children, they are set up to manage tens of thousands of minors who cross the border illegally without family. Health and Human Services manages their care inside the U.S. while Homeland Security has control over adults in immigration detention, and the Justice Department manages the immigration courts.
Earlier this week, government attorneys told Sabraw that the Trump administration would not meet the deadline for about 20 children under five because it needed more time to track down parents who have already been deported or released into the U.S.Sabraw indicated more time would be allowed only in specific cases where the government showed good reasons for a delay.
The administration 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.The administration faces a second, bigger deadline — July 26 — to reunite more than 2,000 older children with their families. Immigration attorneys say they already are seeing barriers to those reunifications from a backlog in the processing of fingerprinting of parents to families unable to afford the airfare to fly the child to them — which could run as high as $1,000.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.