Facing a court-imposed deadline on Tuesday, the US government has said it expects to have reunited 54 young children and parents separated by immigration officials after crossing into the United States from Mexico.
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.
Lugging little backpacks, smiling immigrant children were scooped up into their parents' arms Tuesday as the Trump administration scrambled to meet a court-ordered deadline to reunite dozens of youngsters forcibly separated from their families at the border.
The Legal Aid Society in NY said it is representing at least two children under five who meet the judge's criteria for reunification on Tuesday.
Some of the separated families arrived at USA ports of entry seeking asylum, which is not illegal.
In separating families, Trump sought to advance a hard-line immigration policy that past administrations had considered and quickly abandoned as inhumane.
During the June 27th ruling, the Judge stated that "Measures were not in place to provide for communication between governmental agencies responsible for detaining parents and those responsible for housing children, or to provide for ready communication between separated parents and children".
During Monday's court proceedings, government officials said that about half of the children in the under 5 age group - just over 50 - would be reunited by the deadline. Previously, families were in most cases held together.
The hearing also barely touched on the more than 2,000 children still in government custody who will need to be reunited in coming weeks.
54 will be reunified by Tuesday; their parents are still in government custody and will be released with their children.
The government had asked Sabraw to extend the deadlines because it needed time to test DNA to confirm family relationships, run background checks, find parents who were released from custody and review parental fitness.
"There's no question that the parties are meeting and conferring", District Judge Dana Sabraw said. "Tell people not to come to our country illegally", he said.
The ACLU is seeking clear deadlines to reunite the different groups of remaining children, though the judge deferred deciding on that until Tuesday, at the earliest.
In fact, through DNA testing, two adults who apparently thought they were parents of a child were determined not to be, he said.
Some lawyers representing the separated children, who have been scattered into foster systems across the country, said the government was not telling them what would happen to their young clients.
On a conference call with reporters Tuesday, Chris Meekins, chief of staff for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' assistant secretary for preparedness and response, said the administration has tried to speed up reunifications by adding extra staff to conduct criminal background checks and determine claims of parentage.
The reunions are expected to be carried out in secret or secure locations, with parents taken from the detention centers where they have been held and children brought from federal shelters or foster homes. But on Monday, she said nine were removed from the United States and an additional nine were released here.
"Let me put it this way: I think the government in the last 48 hours ... has taken significant steps", Gelernt said. The judge refused to modify that.