The Trump administration has been racing to meet its court-mandated July 10 deadline to reunite migrant families, following its highly controversial (and now-abandoned) "zero tolerance" policy, in which any person caught crossing the U.S. southern border illegally faced prosecution and possibly separation from their children. The regulation prompted an international outcry, which ultimately ended with President Donald Trump signing an executive order to halt the separations. However, only a few families have been reunited so far, and you might not want to get your hopes up that that'll change any time soon, either, because the deadline to reunite migrant families isn't happening, according to the Trump administration.
The deadline required that 102 migrant children under age 5 who were separated from their guardians be reunified with their families by Tuesday, July 10. However, that apparently isn't happening, as Justice Department attorney Sarah Fabian said on July 9 that officials would only be able to reunite between 54 and 59 of the children by the deadline, according to The Washington Post. Apparently, officials have encountered multiple challenges that have slowed down the reunification process, including 18 parents who the government has already deported or released after separating them from their children. Additionally, there are other parents who are in custody awaiting prosecution, or have criminal records that prohibit them from immediately claiming their children. And officials say they have to DNA-test every separated child and parent to confirm that they are, indeed, related.
Despite the complications, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw, who ordered the deadline, said he was still "encouraged" about the process, according to the Times. He added: “This is real progress. I’m optimistic that many of these families will be reunited tomorrow.”
However, the administration's failure to meet the imposed deadline indicates one of its many challenges that lie ahead when it comes to migrant families. For instance, the administration also has a deadline to reunite nearly 3,000 children over 5 years old with their parents by July 26, and with this latest news, the chances of the administration fulfilling the deadline look pretty grim. An official at the refugee office — who chose to remain anonymous — opened up about the hurdles of the reunification process to Politico on July 2, telling the outlet:
It’s been really difficult to start the reunification process because we just don’t have a lot of direction from leadership. That’s been slowing things up, because there’s just been a lot of confusion.
The Trump administration has also taken heat for withholding the exact number of children being detained. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar told reporters on June 26 that 2,047 separated children still remain in HHS custody following President Trump's executive order. However, when TIME inquired about an updated number on July 2, a spokesperson only shared how many minors are in their custody, in general, without specific reference to the number who had been separated from their parents. An email to TIME from the HHS spokesperson read:
While we understand the interest in detailed breakdowns of this information, our mission has been and remains to provide every minor transferred to HHS, regardless of the circumstances, with quality and age-appropriate care and a speedy and safe release to a sponsor. Currently, there are more than 11,800 minors in our care.
Needless to say, the stall in the reunification process, the HHS' lack of confirmation, and the separation ordeal itself, have resulted in overwhelming emotions from onlookers. From the reports of young children and even infants being taken from their parents to heartbreaking photos and audio of children crying for their parents, it's all been awfully sad to watch.
But, although there's not a clear timeline for reunions, we have to keep the hope alive that it'll happen quickly, and that the children don't have to spend any more time than they absolutely have to away from their parents.