The Trump administration has made the vetting process faster and less strict to reunite the thousands of children and parents separated by its "zero-tolerance" policy before the July 26 deadline, while a federal judge has temporarily halted deportations of the families.
Judge Dana Sabraw of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, who ordered last month that the 2,551 separated kids aged 5 to 17 must be given back to their parents by July 26, halted the deportations of families for a week on Monday, according to The Hill.
The order came in response to a request from the American Civil Liberties Union, which told the court that the government has not denied "persistent and increasing rumors … that mass deportations may be carried out imminently and immediately upon reunification."
The ACLU argued that parents needed time to decide whether to have their children deported along with them.
The judge gave the government one week to oppose the request.
Also on Monday, Jonathan White, an official from the Department of Health and Human Services, said the administration can't find the parents of 71 of the 2,551 children. He also said 1,609 parents are under the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, out of which HHS has determined 1,317 as being "fit" to be reunited with their children.
The government told the judge last week they had implemented a sped-up vetting process to comply with the ruling but were still not sure if they would be able to meet the deadline, according to ABC News.
To expedite the process, HHS has said it will not give parents DNA tests or have their background checks done stringently. However, the judge called the truncated standards "a failure of the process" and "inconsistent with the court's order," according to The Washington Post.
"The department has been operating in good faith and earnestly trying to comply with court orders, including the rapidly approaching deadline for reunification," HHS spokesperson Evelyn Stauffer said in a statement, defending the vetting process. "Our interpretation of the court's order is that HHS must make a determination of parentage, fitness, and safety before reunifying families, but that HHS need not undertake the fuller process of vetting for children's safety that HHS would ordinarily conduct in its operations."
Stauffer added, "In the interests of transparency and cooperation, the department felt it necessary in our filings on Friday to share with the court our view that meeting the deadline would mean truncating the process we might have otherwise followed."
Meanwhile, a Salvadoran mother, identified as Mercedes, and her 16-year-old daughter, Maria, were reunited last week at Bokenkamp Children's Shelter in Corpus Christi about two months after U.S. authorities separated them in South Texas, according to Texas Tribune.
Mercedes was released last month from an Austin-area detention center for women after convincing the U.S. government she would face torture and persecution from gangsters in El Salvador who had sexually assaulted her daughter and were seeking to extort money from the family.