Deadline to reunite US migrants extended as babies face court
A US judge has given the Trump administration more time to reunite migrant children aged five or younger with their parents.
The decision came after a government lawyer said more than half of the 102 young children may be back with parents by the original deadline of Tuesday.
They are among more than 2,300 children separated from parents prosecuted for illegally crossing the border.
The adults say they have fled poverty and gang violence in Central America.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said that after viewing a list of the 102 children under the age of five in the government’s care, “it appears likely that less than half will be reunited” by the 10 July deadline.
However, during a hearing on Monday, Department of Justice lawyer Sarah Fabian said 54 of the children should be back with their parents by Tuesday.
At the hearing in San Diego Judge Dana Sabraw agreed that some cases “will necessitate additional time” for reunification.
Immigration authorities have offered little information about reunification or what comes next.
Lawyers have described migrant toddlers clambering on court desks during hearings, forced to appear in court alone while their parents are detained.
What’s happening on the ground? Pamela Florian, a lawyer with The Florence Project, an Arizona non-profit providing legal and social services to detained immigrant families, told the BBC the family separation policy led to “a huge increase in the number of younger children” coming through the system.
“Now we’re seeing toddlers, we’re seeing babies,” she says.
Last week, the government offered the following information:
On Twitter, immigration lawyers have shared their experiences representing young children who cannot properly explain their situation, let alone navigate legal proceedings.
My 5-yr-old client can’t tell me what country she is from. We prepare her case by drawing pictures with crayons of the gang members that would wait outside her school. Sometimes she wants to draw ice cream cones and hearts instead. She is in deportation proceedings alone. https://t.co/johWiKbzHh
— Laura Barrera, Esq. (@abogada_laura) June 28, 2018
Fellow Florence Project attorney Maite Garcia currently represents four- and six-year-old siblings from Mexico whose mother is in custody, awaiting her asylum hearing.
The six-year-old is blind but has been working with Ms Garcia since her younger brother is nonverbal – “in part because he’s traumatized”, according to Ms Garcia.
“She’s finally understanding after many, many meetings that she risks deportation and so now she’s more frightened than ever of returning.
“She’s been able to confide to me that she’s fleeing violence in her home country and doesn’t want to return because she’s afraid of, as she puts it, ‘bad things happening'”.
This reminds me of the time I asked a client where he was from and he just pointed and said “there” (pointing at empty space)…he was 5. https://t.co/MbntQNTEj1
— Mayra Salinas (@Salinas_Esq) July 3, 2018
Oregon lawyer Lisa LeSage from the nonprofit Immigration Counseling Service (ICS) firm says the children often do not even know what a lawyer is.
“Often times with the young children, they might be crawling around or playing with a pen,” Ms LeSage told the BBC of her in-court experiences.
“Even a five-year-old who wasn’t traumatised can’t always tell you their address or what their parents look like or their last names. How do you expect a child to do all that?”
ICS currently has around five children they have confirmed were separated from their parents at the border, but the numbers keep changing.
“This is not something that the kids or their parents will ever get over,” Ms LeSage says. “I can say across the country, we know of cases where parents have already been deported.”
“It’s a horrific situation right now, there’s really no other word for it.”