With just one week left to go, the government is scrambling to reunite as many as 2,551 children removed from their parents before a July 26 deadline.
But before that milestone, the US has to meet several other court-ordered deadlines in this complicated ordeal to reunite migrant families separated at the border.
6 p.m. ET Thursday, July 19
US District Judge Dana Sabraw said by this time, the government should be done figuring out which adults held by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement are verified parents of separated children. Federal officials would have to show a good reason if they can’t meet the deadline.
The problem with linking parents with children is that the record-keeping hasn’t been ideal. And the government has resorted to using DNA tests to try to match some kids separated from their parents if they encounter any red flags during screenings that might raise questions about their familial relationship.
Thursday is also the deadline for the government to provide a list of parents in ICE detention who are not eligible for reunification – for example, those with serious criminal records or who raise other safety-related concerns.
The government might use this opportunity to provide an update on the next batch of parents that will need to be evaluated – those who are not in government custody. That group includes parents who have been deported, those who were released into the country, and those who might be in federal or state criminal custody.
Monday, July 23
Monday is the deadline for the Department of Justice to respond to an emergency motion filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Earlier this week, the ACLU asked Sabraw to temporarily halt any deportations of parents until one week after they have been reunited with their children.
Why? ACLU lawyers cite “the persistent and increasing rumors … that mass deportations may be carried out imminently and immediately upon reunification.” Lawyers say any deportation should happen only after parents have time to confer with their children.
The judge temporarily paused all deportations of reunited families while the attorneys debate the merits of ordering the one-week delay.
Thursday, July 26
By next Thursday, all migrant children separated from their parents who are eligible for reunification must be reunited, the judge ordered.
Last Friday, the government said 2,551 children in US custody might be eligible for reunions. It’s not clear how many reunions have taken place since.
It’s possible the government won’t be able to find all the kids’ parents. On Monday, a Health and Human Services official said the government hadn’t been able to find the parents of 71 children who were likely separated at the border.
It’s also likely that the the deadline won’t be met for every parent because some parents have already been deported. In court proceedings, government attorneys stressed that it will take a while to track down deported parents and coordinate the logistics of any such reunions.
Sabraw has acknowledged the logistical challenges could require more time and has not penalized or chastised the government on the issue, but is considering setting a deadline of seven days to reunify deported parents with their children once they have been located, contacted and the children’s travel documents are ready.
CNN’s Tal Kopan and Catherine E. Shoichet contributed to this report.