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U.S. government to reunite half of migrant children by deadline

A federal judge on Monday ordered the U.S. government to provide a proposed timeline for when all separated migrant children can be reunited with their parents after the Justice Department said it wouldn't be able to meet the court-ordered deadline for all of the children under the age of 5.
The Justice Department requested more time to reunite the families Friday, saying the process of verifying parentage was time consuming.

The judge had ordered the Health and Human Services Department to reunite children younger than 5 by Tuesday and children between 5 and 17 by July 26.

During a conference hearing Monday, the U.S. government gave an update on its efforts to reunite the families who had been separated as part of the Trump administration's zero-tolerance policy on illegal border crossings.

Sarah Fabian, an attorney for the Justice Department, said that of the 102 children under the age of 5, officials expect to reunite 54 on Tuesday.

Other cases include:

-- Two who have been reunited since the weekend

-- Three who won't be returned because of their parents' criminal records

-- Three who crossed with someone other than a parent

-- Five whose parents required further background checks

-- Nine whose parents have been deported

-- Nine whose parents were released from custody in the United States

-- Four whose parents were in state criminal custody and eight whose parents were in federal criminal custody

-- Four who could be released to a non-parent sponsor

-- One for whom there is no parental information.

"I am very encouraged about the progress," Judge Dana Sabraw said during Monday's hearing. "This is real progress. I'm optimistic that many of these families will be reunited tomorrow."

On Friday, HHS Secretary Alex Azar said the department was using DNA tests to try to quickly comply with the court deadline and reunite the children -- nearly 3,000 of them. In addition to checking for a biological connection between parent and child, HHS officials were vetting parents to make sure they were not "unfit" or present a danger to their child.

In mid-June, the Department of Homeland Security said it separated nearly 2,000 children from their parents in April and May after the Department of Justice announced a "zero-tolerance" policy to prosecute everyone who crosses the border illegally.

"If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law. If you don't like that, then don't smuggle children over our border," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in early May.

The new policy faced backlash from immigrant advocates and lawmakers from the Democratic and Republican parties, and on June 20, President Donald Trump signed an executive order ending the practice of separating families. The order, though, didn't address how or when already separated families would be reunited.

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