Ever Reyes Mejia’s 3-year-old son is loaded into a car after they were reunited at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office building in Grand Rapidson Tuesday, July 10, 2018. (Cory Morse/The Grand Rapids Press via AP)

U.S. government falls short of deadline to reunite kids, parents

More than 2,000 children were reportedly separated from their parents after crossing the Southern U.S. border as part of an immigration strategy by the Trump administration.

Some immigrant toddlers are back in the arms of their parents, but others remained in holding facilities away from relatives as federal officials fell short of meeting a court-ordered deadline to reunite dozens of youngsters forcibly separated from their families at the border.

In Grand Rapids, Michigan, Ever Reyes Mejia walked out of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement centre Tuesday, carrying his beaming son and the boy’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles backpack. The boy was secured in a booster seat, and father and son were driven away.

Another boy and a girl who had been in temporary foster care were reunited with their Honduran fathers at the centre about three months after they were split up.

The three fathers were “just holding them and hugging them and telling them that everything was fine and that they were never going to be separated again,” said immigration lawyer Abril Valdes. The children were “absolutely thrilled to be with their parents again.”

Late last month, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego set a 14-day deadline to reunite children under 5 with their parents and a 30-day deadline for older children.

It wasn’t immediately clear how many children left detention facilities Tuesday or how many remain.

Related: Judge: Separated families must be reunited within 30 days

Related: New GOP plan: Hold kids longer at border – but with parents

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.

Of those 75, Justice Department attorneys told the court the government would guarantee 38 would be back with their parents by the end of Tuesday. They said an additional 17 could also join their parents if DNA results arrived and a criminal background check on a parent was completed by day’s end.

Government attorneys, meanwhile, told a federal judge that the Trump administration would not meet the deadline for 20 other children under 5 because it needed more time to track down parents who have already been deported or released into the U.S.

Sabraw showed little appetite for giving more time to the government unless it could show good reasons in specific cases.

“These are firm deadlines. They’re not aspirational goals,” the judge said Tuesday.

Asked about the missed deadline, the president said: “Well, I have a solution. Tell people not to come to our country illegally. That’s the solution.”

The government 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.

“Our process may not be as quick as some would like, but there is no question it is protecting children,” said Chris Meekins, a Health and Human Services Department official helping to direct the process.

American Civil Liberties Union attorney Lee Gelernt, whose organization filed the lawsuit that forced the administration’s hand, said he was “both thrilled and disappointed” with the government’s work on the deadline.

“Things have taken a real step forward,” Gelernt said.

At a bus station in Phoenix on Tuesday night, a 22-year-old woman who only gave her first name, Gisela, for safety concerns, said she had been apart from her 4-year-old son for over a month after presenting herself at a port of entry in Texas to seek asylum.

Gisela, a Mexican citizen, said she only spoke to her son once while she was detained in Texas and he was at a shelter for children in Phoenix.

Immigration authorities brought Gisela to Arizona about three days ago and the two were reunited Tuesday.

“He was happy. I was happy,” she said.

In El Paso, Texas, three fathers from Central America were reunited with children under 5 and released Tuesday night to an independent shelter for immigrants and asylum seekers.

The administration faces a second, bigger deadline — July 26 — to reunite perhaps 2,000 or so older children with their families. Many are being held in facilities thousands of miles apart.

A Guatemalan man said his 6-year-old son feared he was dead after U.S. authorities separated the pair in May in El Paso, Texas. Hermelindo Che Coc, 31, said the boy cried on the phone with him from the shelter and asked whether he still loved him.

“I’m asking God for him to be in my arms as soon as possible,” Che Coc, told reporters through tears Tuesday before attending a required check-in with immigration authorities in Los Angeles, where he was told to get a passport and return in October. “Without him, I can’t be happy.”

In ordering an end to the separation of families, the president said they should instead be detained together. But the government does not have the room: ICE has three family detention centres with space for 3,000 people, and they are already at or near capacity, though the Trump administration is trying to line up space at military bases.

On Monday, a federal judge in Los Angeles emphatically rejected the Trump administration’s efforts to detain immigrant families for an extended period. A longtime court settlement says children who cross the border illegally cannot be detained for more than 20 days.

___

Householder reported from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Associated Press writers Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar in Washington; Robin McDowell in Minneapolis; Julie Watson in San Diego; Michael Tarm in Chicago; Brian Melley in Los Angeles; Amy Taxin in Santa Ana, Calif.; Nomaan Merchant in Houston; and Corey Williams in Detroit contributed to this report.

Elliot Spagat And Mike Householder, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

PHOTOS: Sylvan Lake students prepare for the day with a breakfast program

Ecole Fox Run School provides a free Breakfast Program to the students

Sylvan Lake pooches could soon see access to the lake

Town staff is investigating possible locations for dog access to the water

PHOTOS: Sylvan Lake bantam Lions fall at provincial semi-finals

The Lions faced the Edmotnon Mustangs in the semi-finals, Nov. 10

PHOTOS: Sylvan Lake PeeWee B Lakers win gold at home tournament

Both the PeeWee B and C Lakers hosted a home tournament, Nov. 9-11.

Sylvan Lake student reaches nationals in quiz competition

Annika Angelstad van Elmpt competed with Manitoba in the Pony Club National Quiz competition

First Nation marks ‘milestone’ land deal at Alberta ceremony

Lubicon Lake First Nation Chief Billy-Joe Laboucan signed treaty last month

EU divorce deal in peril after two UK Cabinet ministers quit

Negotiators from Britain and the European Union have struck a proposed divorce deal that will be presented to politicians on both sides for approval, officials in London and Brussels said Tuesday.

Northern California fire death toll at 56; 130 missing

Many of the missing are elderly and from Magalia, a forested town of about 11,000 to the north of Paradise.

Canfor to buy 70 per cent stake in Swedish Vida Group for $580 million

The privately held company has nine sawmills in southern Sweden with an annual production capacity of 1.1 billion board feet.

Saudi prosecutor seeks death penalty in Khashoggi’s killing

Saudi Arabia’s top prosecutor is recommending the death penalty for five suspects charged with ordering and carrying out the killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi.

Mixing business and family: Trudeau turns to Singapore ancestors to widen trade

Trudeau’s ancestor, Esther Bernard, born Farquhar (1796-1838) was the daughter of Major-General William Farquhar (1774-1839), the first British Resident and Commandant of Singapore.

Baloney Meter: Will tougher penalties for gang members make Canada safer?

Since 2013, gang-related homicides in Canada’s largest cities have almost doubled

Early data suggests no spike in pot-impaired driving after legalization: police

Some departments said it’s too early to provide data, others said initial numbers suggest stoned driving isn’t on the rise

Humans reshaping evolutionary history of species around the globe: paper

University of British Columbia researcher had the paper published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society

Most Read