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U.S. attorneys summoned to court to account for separated families

(Reuters) – Attorneys for the U.S. government were due in court on Friday to update a federal judge on efforts to reunite some 2,500 immigrant children separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border as part of a crackdown on illegal immigration.

A sculpture by artist Marilyn Miller depicts a life-size immigrant child separated by cages from the mother in New York City, U.S., July 19, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

The government has six more days to comply with the reunification order by U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw, who summoned the government attorneys to appear in his San Diego courtroom to account for progress made in bringing families back together.

Lawyers for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement reported in a court filing late on Thursday that 364 children aged 5 and older have been reunited since Sabraw’s order was issued more than three weeks ago.

It was unclear from the status report, filed as part of an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit challenging parent-child separations at the border, exactly how many more reunifications were likely before the July 26 deadline.

Nearly 850 parents have been interviewed and cleared for reunification so far but another 229 parents have been deemed ineligible because of criminal records, or because they “waived” reunification or for other reasons, the report said. The rest are pending review.

Security officers keep watch over a tent encampment housing immigrant children just north of the Mexican border in Tornillo, Texas, U.S. June 20, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake

The report also said more than 700 parents in question have final deportation orders. The ACLU has asked Sabraw give those parents at least a week after being reunited with their children before deportation so they have adequate time for legal counsel on their families’ best options.

Sabraw has temporarily barred deportations until Tuesday, when he will hold a hearing to consider the ACLU request.

Also late Thursday, a federal judge in Seattle ordered the U.S. immigration officials to share the information they have provided to the ACLU with attorneys general from 17 states and the District of Columbia. The AGs in June filed their lawsuit, which, like the ACLU case, challenges the administration’s family separations and other immigration policies.

Children were seized from their parents by U.S. officials at the border as part of a broader “zero tolerance” crackdown on illegal immigration by the administration of President Donald Trump, sparking an international outcry. The president ordered the practice stopped on June 20.

    Sabraw and the government have been at odds over the speed of reunifications, which the government has said have been slowed by the need to protect the safety of the children.

After several testy exchanges in hearings and court papers, Sabraw said on Monday he felt that the government was finally emphasizing family reunification over lengthy procedures such as DNA testing and background checks on parents.

    He may press the government about its focus after comments on Thursday by U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who said her staff is working to meet the Thursday deadline but “we will not cut corners.”

Reporting by Tom Hals; Editing by Paul Tait and Marguerita Choy


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