Ever Reyes Mejia’s 3-year-old son is loaded into a car after they were reunited at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office building in Grand Rapidson Tuesday, July 10, 2018. (Cory Morse/The Grand Rapids Press via AP)

U.S. government falls short of deadline to reunite kids, parents

More than 2,000 children were reportedly separated from their parents after crossing the Southern U.S. border as part of an immigration strategy by the Trump administration.

Some immigrant toddlers are back in the arms of their parents, but others remained in holding facilities away from relatives as federal officials fell short of meeting a court-ordered deadline to reunite dozens of youngsters forcibly separated from their families at the border.

In Grand Rapids, Michigan, Ever Reyes Mejia walked out of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement centre Tuesday, carrying his beaming son and the boy’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles backpack. The boy was secured in a booster seat, and father and son were driven away.

Another boy and a girl who had been in temporary foster care were reunited with their Honduran fathers at the centre about three months after they were split up.

The three fathers were “just holding them and hugging them and telling them that everything was fine and that they were never going to be separated again,” said immigration lawyer Abril Valdes. The children were “absolutely thrilled to be with their parents again.”

Late last month, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego set a 14-day deadline to reunite children under 5 with their parents and a 30-day deadline for older children.

It wasn’t immediately clear how many children left detention facilities Tuesday or how many remain.

Related: Judge: Separated families must be reunited within 30 days

Related: New GOP plan: Hold kids longer at border – but with parents

In trying to meet the first deadline, the government began with a list of 102 children potentially eligible to be reunited and whittled that to 75 through screening that included DNA testing done by swabbing the inside of the cheek.

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. They said an additional 17 could also join their parents if DNA results arrived and a criminal background check on a parent was completed by day’s end.

Government attorneys, meanwhile, told a federal judge that the Trump administration would not meet the deadline for 20 other children under 5 because it needed more time to track down parents who have already been deported or released into the U.S.

Sabraw showed little appetite for giving more time to the government unless it could show good reasons in specific cases.

“These are firm deadlines. They’re not aspirational goals,” the judge said Tuesday.

Asked about the missed deadline, the president said: “Well, I have a solution. Tell people not to come to our country illegally. That’s the solution.”

The government defended its screening, saying it discovered parents with serious criminal histories, five adults whose DNA tests showed they were not parents of the children they claimed to have, and one case of credible child abuse.

“Our process may not be as quick as some would like, but there is no question it is protecting children,” said Chris Meekins, a Health and Human Services Department official helping to direct the process.

American Civil Liberties Union attorney Lee Gelernt, whose organization filed the lawsuit that forced the administration’s hand, said he was “both thrilled and disappointed” with the government’s work on the deadline.

“Things have taken a real step forward,” Gelernt said.

At a bus station in Phoenix on Tuesday night, a 22-year-old woman who only gave her first name, Gisela, for safety concerns, said she had been apart from her 4-year-old son for over a month after presenting herself at a port of entry in Texas to seek asylum.

Gisela, a Mexican citizen, said she only spoke to her son once while she was detained in Texas and he was at a shelter for children in Phoenix.

Immigration authorities brought Gisela to Arizona about three days ago and the two were reunited Tuesday.

“He was happy. I was happy,” she said.

In El Paso, Texas, three fathers from Central America were reunited with children under 5 and released Tuesday night to an independent shelter for immigrants and asylum seekers.

The administration faces a second, bigger deadline — July 26 — to reunite perhaps 2,000 or so older children with their families. Many are being held in facilities thousands of miles apart.

A Guatemalan man said his 6-year-old son feared he was dead after U.S. authorities separated the pair in May in El Paso, Texas. Hermelindo Che Coc, 31, said the boy cried on the phone with him from the shelter and asked whether he still loved him.

“I’m asking God for him to be in my arms as soon as possible,” Che Coc, told reporters through tears Tuesday before attending a required check-in with immigration authorities in Los Angeles, where he was told to get a passport and return in October. “Without him, I can’t be happy.”

In ordering an end to the separation of families, the president said they should instead be detained together. But the government does not have the room: ICE has three family detention centres 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.

On Monday, a federal judge in Los Angeles emphatically rejected the Trump administration’s efforts to detain immigrant families for an extended period. A longtime court settlement says children who cross the border illegally cannot be detained for more than 20 days.

___

Householder reported from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Associated Press writers Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar in Washington; Robin McDowell in Minneapolis; Julie Watson in San Diego; Michael Tarm in Chicago; Brian Melley in Los Angeles; Amy Taxin in Santa Ana, Calif.; Nomaan Merchant in Houston; and Corey Williams in Detroit contributed to this report.

Elliot Spagat And Mike Householder, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Four-car crash, including RCMP vehicle, on Highway 2

Two sheriff’s vehicles were also involved in the collision that closed down one lane

Gord Bamford Charity Golf Classic launches into its second decade

The Gord Bamford Foundation is continuing to support youth supporting charities

Lacombe Corn Maze celebrates CFR 45

Kraay Family Farm opens July 20th

Bucs’ continue to power through AFL

67-0 win over Grand Prairie pushes Bucs’ towards showdown with Ft. Mac

Lacombe County to hold cannabis public meetings

Cannabis in Your Community meetings is aimed to encourage an open, respectful community dialogue

WATCH: Lacombe Community Market selling local all summer

Wednesday Market coincides with Music in the Park

Four people taken by STARS to Edmonton

Blackfalds RCMP investigates single vehicle rollover south of Hwy 11A

The Expo Wheel ride a no-go at Westerner Days

Red Deerians take in Westerner Days all week long

20,000 swarm to Westerner Days on day two

Westerner Days Fair & Exposition saw the community meet-up for Tim Hortons Kids Day

WATCH: Red Deer Airport’s Boot Scootin BBQ supports great cause

Airport hopes to donate $4,000+ to Aspire Special Needs

Red Deer entrepreneur looks to end stigma of mental health

Unparalleled Sports Wear helps support Canadian Mental Health Association

Trump was taped talking of paying Playboy model: AP source

Source says former personal lawyer Michael Cohen secretly recorded discussion prior to 2016 election

UPDATED: Remains of all eight Bruce McArthur victims now identified, Toronto police say

McArthur worked as a landscaper and allegedly concealed the remains of several men in planters

Premiers to wrap up 2 days of meetings at New Brunswick seaside resort

Meetings held in the scenic seaside town of St. Andrews on Thursday focused on trade

Most Read