They are among more than 2,300 children split up from their families as a outcome of the "zero tolerance" practice that saw their parents prosecuted for illegally crossing the border, even if they did so to seek asylum.
Under the "zero-tolerance", policy, while parents entering the USA illegally were held for prosecution, children were placed in Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) facilities across the country.
"Records show the parent and child might be USA citizens", lawyers for the government wrote in the filing.
In Grand Rapids, Mich., two girls and a boy who had been in temporary foster care were reunited with their Honduran fathers at a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement center about three months after they were split up. The parents will be free while their cases wind through immigration court, which can take years, and may be required to wear ankle monitors. Some children were brought to the United States by someone who was not their biological parent, it said, adding that others had parents with serious criminal records. Some detained parents had been released from custody and could not be contacted.
"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 separated the families as part of the Trump administration's effort to criminally prosecute all immigrants who cross the U.S. -Mexico border illegally, including those who are seeking asylum. If those parents were able to prove a familial bond with their child using a birth certificate or official documentation, they argued, there should be no hold-up in the reunification process.More news: Thailand cave rescue team begin operation to free last of trapped boys
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Justice Department lawyer Sarah Fabian said at one point in the conference that one of the separated children was not eligible for release because, in the course of a previous fingerprint background check, someone in the child's parent's household was found to have a history of sexual abuse.
"The objective of the [Trafficking Victims Protection Act ] is to promote the best interests of the child and to reunite families", the ACLU had argued. The Legal Aid Society in NY said it is representing at least two separated children under five years old that meet the judge's criteria for reunification on Tuesday. "Tell people not to come to our country illegally", he said. It noted that 20 of those parents were already deported, even though their children remain in USA government custody.
The Justice Department says it will reunite only about half of the more than 100 migrant children under 5 today, after a federal judge in San Diego agreed to extend the deadline mandating the reunification of all of the youngest children. An additional 20 children have purported parents with whom they can not be reunited because those adults have already been either removed from the United States or released into the country, which removes DHS and HHS's ability to force them to come get the children they claim are theirs.
"I believe that they can still reunite some [more] individuals by tomorrow", Gelernt said during the hearing. The families will be released after they are reunited.
The government on Friday asked for an extension of the deadline, saying it needed more time to find and confirm the identities of the children and parents. A longtime court settlement says children who cross the border illegally can not be detained for more than 20 days. Attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the lawsuit, said activists have turned up as many as 10 more names that need to added to the number of separated kids still in detention.