The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Sunday (July 15) submitted a new plan to reunite some 2,500 children with their parents—immigrant families separated after the Trump administration implemented its "zero tolerance" immigration policy in early May and began criminally prosecuting adults who crossed the United States-Mexico border.
The new reunification blueprint, submitted after U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw criticized the agency for a slow unification process, will forego DNA tests to verify parentage as HHS attempts to reunite children ages 5 to 17 with their parents before the July 26 deadline.
Per Politico, attorneys for HHS stressed that DNA tests can be dismissed because the children have better language skills, and can communicate more fluently with caseworkers than the roughly 100 children under age 5 who were separated from their parents.
Under the new plan, the older children will not be subjected to the exhaustive background checks that their parents undergo. To facilitate reunification, the children will also be moved to eight detention centers operated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
On Friday, Sabraw criticized HHS for using safety concerns as "cover" to avoid meeting the July 26 deadline. Last month, in response to a class action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Sabraw gave the federal government two weeks to reunite approximately 100 children under age 5 with their parents and one month to reunite the remaining children older than age 5.
“That is on the government,” Sabraw said of deadline delays, according to a transcript of a conference call between Sabraw and Trump administration officials, obtained by The Washington Post. “And that’s a failure of the process and it is inconsistent with the court’s order.”
"As we saw with the minors covered by the court case who are under age 5, and as the court has acknowledged, there are many circumstances that preclude a minor from being reunited with a parent, including when a purported parent ends up not being the parent, a parent poses a threat to the child’s well-being, or a parent is in custody elsewhere due to criminal activity," HHS spokesperson Evelyn Stauffer said in a statement.
Judge Sabraw ordered government officials to appear in court in San Diego today (July 16) to update him on the reunification plan.
"I would like someone with decision-making authority from HHS in court Monday at 9:30," said Sabraw, according to Politico. "I have a real concern about a disconnect between HHS and, for example, government counsel…something is being lost in translation."