Government Will Not Meet Deadline To Reunite Children Separated From Their Parents
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
A federal judge has set today as the deadline for the federal government to reunite some of the families that separated after they crossed the U.S.-Mexico border. Today's deadline specifically applies to all children under 5 years old and their parents. The government has said it can't meet the deadline for dozens of young kids. Today the judge insisted it must.
Joining us now is John Sepulvado of member station KQED. He was monitoring today's hearing, and he joins us from outside that courthouse in San Diego. Hi, John.
JOHN SEPULVADO, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Tell us more about what the judge said today.
SEPULVADO: Well, the judge essentially wants three things. He wants the government to stop using DNA testing as a way to determine parentage. This is really important because it can take anywhere between 13 and 21 days to establish that parents are in fact the parents of their children. The second thing he wants are real exact reasons for why the government would not be able to reunify some of these children under 5. So far, the government has really used generalized reasons, and the judge says he wants specific examples and different ways to tackle the situation of reunifying those particular children.
The final thing that he wants is essentially for the government to stop giving excuses for why they can't work together. Now, he didn't say it that bluntly. He told the government, quote, "they have an effective obligation to reunify quickly and safely these families."
SHAPIRO: So you said the judge asked for reasons. What reasons has the government given for their inability to do this?
SEPULVADO: Part of it's the DNA testing. The other thing that the federal government has said a lot of is that it takes a long time for them to vet that these families which they separated are indeed actually related, that some of these people who are claiming to be minors are actually minors. The government has given a whole host of reasons. And they've said that there are regulations in Health and Human Services that require inspections and investigations of these parents before they can then turn the kids back over to them. The judge says that, yes, some of those regulations exist, but in this particular case - this is such an extraordinary case, and it's a case of the government's own making - that that type of due diligence is not needed.
SHAPIRO: The ACLU brought this case. How did those lawyers react to the judge's decision today?
SEPULVADO: They actually seemed very happy that this is moving forward in the way it is. Lee Gelernt is the lead attorney for the ACLU. And as you said, they brought this suit. And it was, Ari, for a case that that existed before zero tolerance. So the government has been doing this with asylum-seekers, according to the ACLU's suit, for almost a year and a half now. And here's what Lee Gelernt said about the judge's ruling today.
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LEE GELERNT: We were extremely pleased with the court's rulings today. The court made clear that the government should not use a cumbersome, lengthy reunification process, that they should streamline the process so they can meet the deadlines. That was one major dispute between the parties today.
SHAPIRO: Now, there were more than 60 kids scheduled to be reunited with their parents today. Government attorneys say some already have been. Where does this go from here?
SEPULVADO: Well, there are two things that happens. First, at the end of this month, there is a big deadline to reunify all the other children. And we're talking thousands of children. And there are many more complications with those cases because these are older kids. Some of them might have been trafficked. Some of them might not have actually been with family members. That's going to be really important that the government be able to act quickly in those cases and determine it, which they've been unable to do.
And, Ari, I just want to leave you with this. There is the story of a 3-year-old who has been separated from their family. As of yesterday, the government said, well, we can't determine who the parents are. Today the government said, actually, this 3-year-old might be a United States citizen. So in this one case with this one toddler, it's very clear that the government has not only not been able to keep track of the families that they've separated but can't even tell which of these children might indeed actually be U.S. citizens.
SHAPIRO: Wow. That's KQED's John Sepulvado in San Diego. Thank you.
SEPULVADO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.