A few dozen immigrant families are expected to be reunited by a court deadline Tuesday, as the fates of thousands more remain in limbo.
Four children of 102 identified for the deadline have already been reunified with their parents, and another 34 were expected to be reunited on Tuesday, according to the administration, fewer than the 54 children the federal government had previously said would be united by the deadline.
That deadline arrived amid heightened stakes. A separate federal judge late Monday flatly rejected the administration's attempt to rewrite the rules for detaining families in order to hold them indefinitely, calling the request "cynical" and "wholly without merit."
But though the federal government will not meet a judge's deadline to reunite all of the eligible families on time, a federal judge was nevertheless satisfied with the effort being made.
The children who are addressed under the Tuesday deadline are all under age 5 and have been held by the government for weeks or months after being separated from their parents at the border.
Just under half of those eligible will be reunited on time, and they're just a fraction of the thousands of young immigrants still in custody apart from their parents, many of whom are detained and separated from family as a byproduct of the Trump administration's "zero-tolerance" policy.
Based on information provided in court filings, US District Judge Dana Sabraw said in a court status hearing Tuesday he believes officials should be able to reunite 63 of the kids under age 5 with their parents by the deadline or "within the immediate proximity of today."
The remaining kids would take longer, he acknowledged. Some of their parents were ultimately not eligible for reunification, for reasons which include having a criminal history or not being biologically related to the children. Other parents had already been deported or released and have not yet been located.
But, he said, "these are firm deadlines, not aspirational goals."
Beyond the 38 who were to be reunited by Tuesday, another 16 children were to be reunited "soon thereafter," the filing said, as soon as they are confirmed as eligible, and another eight were flagged for follow-up regarding the safety and suitability of the parent. One more child's parent had an unresolved issue with the background check.
Twelve more kids have parents who cannot be located yet.
There are 27 children that the government has determined are not eligible for reunification yet, either because the adult is ineligible due to criminal history or not actually being the parent, or because the parents present a danger to the child or have a contagious disease. A handful are also still in criminal custody.
The judge instructed the government attorneys and American Civil Liberties Union attorneys representing the immigrants in the case to discuss the remaining cases to make sure they agree. Any disputed situations -- including if the ACLU does not believe a criminal history is accurate, for example -- are to be referred to the judge in a status update filing due Thursday.
Also due Thursday: information on how many thousands more children aged 5 and older remain to be reunified by his next deadline, July 26.
Sabraw set another hearing for Friday.
The plan for Tuesday's reunions is for the children to be released to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which runs the adult detention centers where their parents are being held. Once the children are handed over to their custody, ICE will release the families together. This plan bypasses the lengthy "sponsor" process that is required to release an unaccompanied immigrant child from Health and Human Services custody.