The Justice Department on Thursday asked a federal judge for an extension on the deadlines she’d set to reunite immigrant families separated at the border, saying it will take more time to conduct DNA tests confirming parentage.
San Diego Judge Dana Sabraw set deadlines last week that children under five be returned to their parents in 14 days and all other children be returned within 30 days.
“Given the possibility of false claims of parentage, confirming parentage is critical to ensure that children are returned to their parents, not to potential traffickers,” Justice Department attorneys wrote in their filing submitted late Thursday night. “The Government…seeks clarification that in cases where parentage cannot be confirmed quickly, HHS will not be in violation of the Court’s order if reunification occurs outside of the timelines provided by the Court.”
The Justice Department is also asking to the judge to dispense with her finding that adults must be released if their children cannot be reunited with them by the deadlines.
Authorities are using DNA testing to confirm that the adults who brought the children over the border are indeed their parents and not human smugglers before they are reunited and released. But such testing “takes meaningful time, even when it is expedited,” according to the Justice Department’s filing.
The Department of Health and Human Services must also run a background check on the adults to make sure they do not have a criminal record or history of abuse before releasing the children into their care.
The Trump administration has taken heat over the close to 3,000 children who have been separated from the adults who brought them over the border since early May, when the Justice Department’s “zero tolerance” immigration-enforcement policy was first implemented. President Trump subsequently signed an executive order aimed at detaining families together, but there has been confusion as to how it should be implemented.