WASHINGTON - All migrant children under age 5 who were separated at the US-Mexico border will have been reunited with their parents by early Thursday morning if they were eligible, a Trump administration official said in a statement on Wednesday.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which sued the government over its separation policies, disputed that assertion.
“Their statement is vague at a minimum," said attorney Lee Gelernt, noting that a San Diego judge had set a deadline of Tuesday for reuniting those children. "We know they missed the deadline.”
The government has said some children were not eligible for reunification because the parent was deported, had a criminal record or was otherwise unfit.
US Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego had ordered the government to reunite the children under the age of 5 by Tuesday and all separated children by July 26.
On Thursday, the government will give Sabraw a progress report on the younger children and whether it expects to meet the deadline for the older group.
The government has said around 2,300 children were separated from their parents at the border under the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy on illegal immigration, which was abandoned in June after intense protests.
US President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Wednesday to blame the Democratic Party, among others, for failing to fix what he has characterised as a broken immigration system.
"Judges run the system and illegals and traffickers know how it works. They are just using children!" he said.
Democrats in Congress must no longer Obstruct - vote to fix our terrible Immigration Laws now. I am watching what is going on from Europe - it would be soooo simple to fix. Judges run the system and illegals and traffickers know how it works. They are just using children!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 11, 2018
One immigration advocate told Reuters she was still awaiting details on when officials would return two children younger than 5 to their parents. One parent was from Honduras and the other from El Salvador.
"Our clients still have not been reunified!" said Beth Krause, an attorney with Legal Aid Society's Immigrant Youth Project, in an email to Reuters. She said the government said one would be reunited sometime Wednesday.
If the government failed to reunite all the children under 5 with their parents by Thursday, Sabraw asked the ACLU to suggest penalties he could levy against the government.
Rights advocates have blamed the US government's poor technology for difficulties tracking children across multiple government agencies involved in their detention and care.
The government has said the delays stem from the time it takes to run background checks, confirm parentage and locate parents released from detention.