The federal judge overseeing the reunification of children and parents separated at the U.S.-Mexico border berated the Trump administration, accusing it of using his ruling as “cover” to imply that speeding up the reunification process might potentially endanger children. U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego held a conference call Friday after a key federal official filed a sworn statement with the court saying that Sabraw’s deadlines for reuniting children were forcing the government to shorten the vetting process, the Washington Post reports. The statement implied that the deadlines could result in the government placing up to 175 children with people who were not their biological parent, among other risks.
Chris Meekins of the Health and Human Services Department said the “faster reunifications” may land children in “potentially abusive environments.” During the conference call, the judge criticized the administration for listing a “parade of horribles” that presented a skewed picture of his orders. He said he had ordered officials to release children quickly and safely, and expressed concern that that might not have happened in some cases. The Trump administration separated thousands of families under a zero-tolerance policy launched in May that prosecuted parents for crossing the border illegally, sending them to jails and then immigration detention, and their children to shelters overseen by HHS. Agency spokesman Evelyn Stauffer said HHS is conducting background checks and ensuring that parents are fit to regain custody, but that it would prefer a fuller vetting process to ensure the children’s safety. Sabraw gave officials until last Tuesday to return 103 children under age 5 to their parents, and until July 26 for the remaining 2,500 children to be reunited with their families. HHS officials said they plan to return as many as 200 children a day to their parents to comply with Sabraw’s orders.