U.S. judge says may rule next week on reuniting migrant children

(Reuters) - A federal judge said on Friday he could rule as soon as the middle of next week on a request to order the U.S. government to reunite thousands of immigrant children who were separated from their parents after illegally crossing the Mexico-U.S. border.

Unaccompanied minors are seen at the Bristow facility, in this photo provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in Bristow, Virgina, U.S., June 21, 2018. The shelter is one of numerous facilities housing children and youths which are funded by the Office of Refugee Resettlement. HHS/Handout via REUTERS

While U.S. President Donald Trump bowed to political pressure on Wednesday and issued an executive order ending the separations, the administration has been silent on plans to reunite parents split from their children.

More than 2,300 migrant children have been separated since the Trump administration began a “zero tolerance” policy toward illegal border crossings in early May.

At a court hearing on Friday, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union pressed U.S. District Court Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego to issue an injunction as soon as Friday evening to force the government to begin reuniting families.

“Parents can’t find their children, they are not even speaking to their children. It’s a humanitarian crisis,” said Lee Gelernt, a lawyer for the ACLU, at Friday’s hearing.

He asked the judge to order the government to reunite all children in 30 days, and in five days for children under the age of five.

Gelernt also asked for an order barring separations.

Some legal experts have said exceptions in the Wednesday executive order could allow some separations to continue.

The judge peppered a government lawyer with questions about procedures for handling children separated from their parents and tracking by government agencies, and in general the government lawyer focused on arguments about legal procedure.

The government has said in court papers that separation of children is a consequence of the lawful detention of the parent.

The ACLU filed the case in February alleging the government violated the right to due process of two unidentified women, from Brazil and the Democratic Republic of Congo, when their children were removed from them.

Sabraw declined to rule at the hearing without further briefing and suggested the ACLU provide details for procedures for reuniting parents and children.

Sabraw told the ACLU to file its papers by Monday at 9 a.m. PDT (noon EDT) and directed the government to respond by 4 p.m. PDT on Wednesday.

“I will endeavor to issue a ruling shortly after receiving the briefing,” he said.

Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Noeleen Walder and James Dalgleish