A government lawyer said Monday that at least 54 children under the age of 5 would join their parents by a court-ordered deadline, only about half the 100 or so children covered by the order.
Rodriguez said the commander running the shelter at Tornillo told him that none of the children there would be housed at Fort Bliss, one of two Texas military bases that the Pentagon has said will likely house thousands of immigrants who have been apprehended at the border. After reunification, they face a series of other obstacles - including long, complex legal proceedings, and possibly deportation.
In trying to meet the first deadline, the government began with a list of 102 children potentially eligible to be reunited and whittled that to 75 through screening that included DNA testing done by swabbing the inside of the cheek. Some families are only partially reunified; a child may be returned to his mother, for instance, while his father remains in detention. "I'm optimistic that many of these families will be reunited tomorrow".
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday that by the end of the day, he expects 38 children will have been reunited with their parents.
"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", HHS Chief of Staff Chris Meekins, told reporters.
A federal judge told the Trump administration on Tuesday to lay off using some of its most stringent vetting procedures before reuniting families separated at the border.
Another five children may have to wait for reunification because of immigration issues with their parents, he said. They have to conduct criminal background checks of the parents.
Still, at a court hearing on Monday, the federal judge who set the deadline for reunifications said he was "very encouraged" thus far. While parents are held in jail to await trial by a judge, children are moved into accommodation managed by an HHS agency.
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The Trump administration was working on final background checks for another five children ahead of Tuesday's deadline.
Sabraw also said fingerprinting other adults in the household shouldn't be required and that legal orientation training could occur after reunification, not before, as the government wanted.
"Let me put it this way: I think the government in the last 48 hours ... has taken significant steps", Gelernt said. She said locations would not be publicly disclosed, but children have been sent to shelters across the country.
"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.
After the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the Trump administration to speed up the reunification process in late June, a federal judge ordered the administration to reunite families who had been broken up at the border within 30 days, or 14 days for those with children under the age of 5.
In court in San Diego, Sabraw said DNA tests to determine if a child belongs to a family aren't necessary if family members have other documentation, such as a birth certificate.
Numerous separated children are fleeing violence in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, and U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen met with diplomats from those countries in Guatemala on Tuesday to discuss U.S. immigration policies.
Former officials in the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement say its system is accustomed to serving teenagers who arrive in the USA alone, often knowing the name of a relative who could potentially sponsor them. Once the children are handed over to their custody, ICE will release the families together.