NOEL KING, HOST:
A federal judge ruled late yesterday that the government cannot hold immigrant families who crossed the border illegally in long-term detention. The Trump administration wanted to amend a long-standing consent decree that said children couldn't be held for more than 20 days. John Sepulvado from member station KQED has the story.
JOHN SEPULVADO, BYLINE: There are over 100 children under the age of 5 in federal custody, separated from their parents at the border. And today is the deadline, ordered by a federal judge in San Diego, to bring those children back together with their families. But government attorneys asked for an extension, saying they couldn't match all of the kids with parents in time to comply with that deadline. They could match over half, however. And today at least 54 children with parents in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement will be reunited. The rest, as many as 48, will not.
BARDIS VAKILI: It's really the agencies that created this mess and created the chaos.
SEPULVADO: That's Bardis Vakili with the ACLU. He's one of the attorneys who brought suit against the government over child separations.
VAKILI: They separated these parents without any systems in place for what to do with the kids and the parents. And now the reckoning of that lack of foresight is happening.
SEPULVADO: That reckoning, as Vakili puts it, meant disclosing that the government has at least one child, a 3-year-old, whose parents have not been located at all. At least nine parents have already been deported back to their home countries, leaving their children behind in U.S. custody.
VAKILI: There is another day coming, which is the thousands of other kids who are between 5 and 18 who need to be reunified. If the government doesn't operate in a more systemic and logical way, that's going to, you know - we want to avoid total chaos, which could easily happen.
SEPULVADO: That could happen at the end of this month. That's when the judge ordered the government to reunify children older than 5 with their parents. It's another deadline that could easily shift, however, given the difficulties the government has had complying thus far. Despite the delays, the judge said he was encouraged by the progress made. He wants the government to provide a time frame today for reunification for any of the youngest children unable to be reunited with families by his first deadline. As for the children reunited today, they will join their parents, and both will be released from custody.
For NPR News, I'm John Sepulvado in San Diego.
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