(Reuters) - Attorneys for the U.S. government were due in court on Friday to update a federal judge on efforts to reunite some 2,500 immigrant children separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border as part of a crackdown on illegal immigration.
The government has six more days to comply with the reunification order by U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw, who summoned the government attorneys to appear in his San Diego courtroom to account for progress made in bringing families back together.
Lawyers for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement reported in a court filing late on Thursday that 364 of some 2,500 families with children aged 5 and older have been reunited since Sabraw's order was issued more than three weeks ago.
It was unclear from the status report, filed as part of an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit challenging parent-child separations at the border, exactly how many more reunifications were likely before the July 26 deadline.
Nearly 850 parents have been interviewed and cleared for reunification so far but another 229 parents have been deemed ineligible because of criminal records, or because they "waived" reunification or for other reasons, the report said. The rest are pending review.
The report also said more than 700 parents in question have final deportation orders, although Sabraw has barred the expulsion of those parents until at least a week after they regain their children so they have adequate time for legal counsel on their families' best options.
Children were seized from their parents by U.S. officials at the border as part of a broader "zero tolerance" crackdown on illegal immigration by the administration of President Donald Trump, sparking an international outcry. The president ordered the practise stopped on June 20.
Sabraw has used recent hearings to push back on procedures that the government attorneys have said are meant to safeguard children in its custody, such as criminal checks of parents and DNA tests to ensure family relations.
The government blamed those measures for missing a July 10 deadline to reunite children under age 5, although the administration said they have now all since been returned to their parents.
The judge has accused the government of either acting in defiance of his order or lacking the resources to fix the mess it created.
Sabraw said at a hearing on Monday he was reassured that the government was finally putting the emphasis on reuniting families over lengthy procedures aimed at combating human trafficking that the judge said did not apply.
He may press the government about comments on Thursday by U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen suggesting she might differ on the emphasis placed on speedy reunifications, saying "we will not cut corners."
(Reporting by Tom Hals; Editing by Paul Tait)