There were tears of joy and tears of anguish as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reunited 34 of the 102 children under 5 it had been ordered to return to their parents by Tuesday. (Four other kids had been returned to their parents before Tuesday.) And the federal judge who set the deadline, Dana Sabraw, was not amused. "These are firm deadlines, they're not aspirational goals," he told government lawyers. He asked an ACLU lawyer to propose punishments if the government missed the Tuesday deadline for at least 63 children and the July 26 deadline to reunite parents with the roughly 3,000 older children U.S. border agents forcibly separated under President Trump's "zero tolerance" policy.
The Department of Health and Human Services, which provided the 34-returned-children number, blamed safety concerns for the delay, saying it found parents with criminal backgrounds and five adults who DNA tests showed were not the child's parent. In a court filing Tuesday, the Justice Department gave other extenuating circumstances, including one young child who can't be returned because the whereabouts of his parents are unknown and "records show the parent and child might be U.S. citizens." Judge Sabraw wasn't swayed, conceding only that it would take more time to reunite the 20 children whose parents had already been deported.
Tuesday's secretive reunification effort was full of the "chaos, confusion, and legal wrangling" that has accompanied Trump's zero tolerance policy, the Los Angeles Times notes. Some reunions were happy, like a handful of Central American fathers reunited with their young kids in Texas and Michigan; they were "just holding them and hugging them and telling them that everything was fine and that they were never going to be separated again," immigration lawyer Abril Valdes said of three dads in Michigan. In Arizona, on the other hand, a few mothers were met with rejection from toddlers who appeared not to recognize them after months of separation, The New York Times reports.