That chaos was underscored on Tuesday by the government's struggle to comply with the court order in San Diego to reunite children under the age of five with their families.
Of the almost 3,000 migrant minors who were separated from their parents and placed in federal custody, the Trump administration says at least 102 are under 5 years old. The order is the first step in reunification following Trump's executive order that ended the family separating policy at the border, but failed to reunite the thousands of children with their parents.
The government defended its screening, saying it discovered parents with serious criminal histories and one case of credible child abuse.
U.S. Border Patrol agents take a father and son from Honduras into custody near the U.S. -Mexico border, June 12, 2018, near Mission, Texas.
More than 2,000 children in all were separated from their parents by U.S. immigration authorities at the border this spring before President Donald Trump reversed course on June 20 amid an worldwide outcry and said families should remain together.
In a conference call with reporters, Chris Meekins, a senior official with the Department of Health and Human Services, said the reunification process may be going slowly, "but there is no question that it is protecting children". That's the solution. Don't come to our country illegally. Fabian said two of those children have already been reunited, and another 54 will be reunited by Tuesday.
The decision came in a preliminary injunction after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit. The adults may be required to wear ankle monitors while their cases wind through immigration court, a process that can take years.
Federal judge Dana Sabraw-who issued the ruling that set the Tuesday deadline-asked the ACLU to "submit a proposal for possible punishment" against the Trump administration for failing to meet the target date.
On Monday, a federal judge refused to amend a previous court order mandating the maximum time a child can be detained under federal law, which the Trump administration argued was necessary due to backlogs in the court system.
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Matthew Albence, executive associate director of ICE's enforcement and removal programs, told reporters on Tuesday that the administration had also at least temporarily ceased referring adults who arrive in the US illegally with children for prosecution, adding that they will be given ankle bracelets "and released into the community". She ruled at the time that immigrant children generally can't be held longer than 20 days.
That discrepancy in numbers is one of several disagreements both sides of the suit, the Justice Department and the ACLU, pledged to discuss later Monday.
Catholic Charities, which helped place some of the children in shelter facilities after their separation, held a news briefing in NY at which a handful of the reunited parents expressed relief after weeks of anxiety over the separations. But the government does not have the room: ICE has three family detention centers with space for 3,000 people, and they are already at or near capacity, though the Trump administration is trying to line up space at military bases.
Some attorneys and advocates prepared for Tuesday's (Wednesday NZT) reunions with little information.
Speaking outside the White House before flying to Europe, Trump said: "Well, I have a solution".
DOJ lawyers said in a court filing that the government has tried for twelve months to locate the parents, to no avail.
As the government awaits the court's Monday decision on whether or not the timeline for family reunification will be extended, time is of the essence: doctors have repeatedly warned that being separated from parents for even short periods of time can cause symptoms of toxic stress in children, which can derail healthy emotional development. Another five families will likely be reunited after Tuesday, once the background check process is completed.
Still other parents still have yet to undergo DNA testing to match them to their purported children.
One Honduran father had been warned by border agents that his child would be taken away, and had been given an opportunity to explain to his son what would happen.