Justice Department Wants More Time to Reunite Families Separated at the Border

July 6, 2018, 5:51 PM UTC

The U.S. Department of Justice is reportedly asking a judge for more time to reunite families that were separated at the border, saying the timeline mandated last week does not consider the strenuous verification and vetting that parents need to go through.

“The government does not wish to unnecessarily delay reunification,” said lawyers for the Justice Department to the court, NBC News reported. “At the same time, however, the government has a strong interest in ensuring that any release of a child from government custody occurs in a manner that ensures the safety of the child.”

Last week’s court decision ordered all children under age five be returned to their parents by July 10, and all other children be returned by July 26. Since Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy went into effect in early May, nearly 3,000 children have been separated from their parents at the border. The government has interpreted the court mandate to include all children separated from their families even before this policy, increasing the number that need to be reunited.

U.S. Health and Human Services Sec. Alex Azar said Thursday that HHS is using DNA testing to match children with their parents, as the usual method of filing documents like birth certificates will take too long. In their request for more time, government lawyers said they could meet reunification deadlines if the requirements for parental vetting were lessened.

“If the court concludes that HHS must truncate (the vetting) process to meet court-ordered deadlines, then the court should so order in a manner that provides HHS full clarity,” they said.

Additionally, some parents have already been deported, making it difficult to reunite them with their children. The government asked the judge to either extend the timeline to reunite these families, or exclude them from those who must be reunited by July 26.