Fifty-seven of 103 children under age 5 who were taken from their families have been reunited with their parents. Photo by Chris Stone

A San Diego federal judge who last month ordered the Trump adminstration to reunify undocumented families–and who late Friday sharply criticized government efforts to implement that order–had officials scrambling Sunday.

In a statement obtained by several media outlets, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw denounced deputy assistant secretary of Health and Human Services Chris Meekins‘ efforts to comply with his court-ordered reunification deadline of July 26.

“It is clear from Mr. Meekins’s declaration that HHS either does not understand the court’s orders or is acting in defiance of them,” the judge said. “At a minimum, it appears he is attempting to provide cover to defendants for their own conduct in the practice of family separation, and the lack of foresight and infrastructure necessary to remedy the harms caused by that practice.”

The Justice Department on Friday filed a plan to reunify more than 2,500 children age 5 and older by the deadline using “truncated” procedures to verify parentage.

The Trump administration has maintained Sabraw’s order could jeopardize the welfare of the children.

“My opinion is that the court’s necessary truncating of the vetting process for class membership — including suspension of critical information-gathering through mandatory completion of family reunification packets — materially increases the risk that HHS will reunify a child with a parent who will abuse them,” Meekins told the court Friday.

Sabraw shot back, saying Meekins’ declaration was “nothing but cover for HHS. It is completely inconsistent with a good faith effort and the statement that three Cabinet members made (Thursday). It portrays a very grudging reluctance to do things. And then ultimately says, we are doing a truncated procedures, and if anything goes wrong it is on the court. That’s the message, and it’s not appreciated, and the government can do a lot better.”

Sabraw confirmed data released by the federal government Thursday, saying 57 of 103 children under age 5 who were taken from their families have been reunited with their parents. Federal government officials insisted that of the remaining 46 young children, 22 were determined to be ineligible for reunification due to safety concerns posed by the parents in question, while the others could not be returned because their parents had already been deported or were in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service for other offenses. In two cases, the alleged parents were being held in state jails and one parent has been missing for more than a year.

But Sabraw ordered the government to continue reuniting children without delay, including those age 5 and older.

In court papers filed Sunday, which were obtained by CNN, the Justice Department tried to provide “clarification of some points of potential confusion about how the reunification plan works” for the group of children aged 5-17. Officials will not reunify a child without first making determinations confirming parentage and assessing the parents’ fitness to receive children and the children’s safety, according to Sunday’s clarification.

Sabraw scheduled another status hearing for Monday at 9:30 a.m.


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