In Grand Rapids, Michigan, Ever Reyes Mejia walked out of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement center Tuesday, carrying his beaming son and the boy's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles backpack. The father and son cried throughout the reunification meeting as he pet his son's hair.
One boy, from El Salvador, was due to be released to his mother, according to Beth Krause, the supervising attorney of Legal Aid's Immigrant Youth Project. The children were "absolutely thrilled to be with their parents again".
At a status conference, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw told the government that it did not need to fingerprint everyone in a given parent's household in order to reunite that parent with their child. That effectively limited detention to 20 days - a timeline set under a 1997 court settlement known as Flores - for migrant adults apprehended with children.
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.
The announcement comes as the United States government scrambles to reunite thousands of migrant children who were separated from their parents at the border under the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" immigration policy.
On Tuesday, Sabraw showed little appetite for giving more time to the government unless it could show good reasons in specific cases.
"These are firm deadlines".
On Tuesday, with the court-mandated deadline looming, the government responded.
Before departing the White House for Europe, Trump said, "That's the solution".
Asked Tuesday morning about the missed deadline, Trump said: 'Well, I have a solution.
He told reporters that 14 illegal immigrants could not be reunited with children because some had criminal histories, some were determined not to be the parents of the children and one had a communicable disease.
The U.S. Health and Human Services patted themselves on the back, despite their failure to reunite the 102 young children by the deadline.
"Things have taken a real step forward", Gelernt said.
"He was happy. I was happy", she said.
"It's extremely disappointing that the Trump administration looks like it will fail to reunite even half the children under 5 with their parent", said ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt.
The government has until July 26 to reunite almost 2,800 other children, ages five through 17, now in its custody. Many are being held in facilities thousands of miles apart.
More than 2,000 children in all were separated from their parents by United States immigration authorities at the border this spring before President Donald Trump reversed course on June 20 amid an global outcry and said families should remain together. "Without him, I can't be happy".
The government has said the delays stem from the time it takes to run background checks, confirm parentage and locate parents released from detention. But the government does not have the room: ICE has three family detention centers 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.
A demonstrator uses baby onesies to spell out "reunite" during a rally against the Trump administration's immigration policies outside the Texas Capitol, in Austin, Texas, on June 30.
On Tuesday morning, staff members at a private firm that has been detaining numerous youngest children "made sure every backpack was full and every child got a hug and a goodbye", Southwest Key CEO Juan Sanchez said.
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