July 16 (UPI) -- A federal judge on Monday ordered the U.S. government to temporarily halt deportations of migrant families in order to review whether parents need more time to consider whether they want to leave the United States with or without their children.
Judge Dana Sabraw issued the order during a status conference. The American Civil Liberties Union, which represents some migrant parents separated from their children, requested the Immigration Customs Enforcement delay deportations until at least one week after U.S. officials reunite the families.
The ACLU said there were "persistent and increasing rumors ... that mass deportations may be carried out imminently and immediately upon reunification."
"A one-week stay is a reasonable and appropriate remedy to ensure that the unimaginable trauma these families have suffered does not turn even worse because parents made an uninformed decision about the fate of their child," the organization added.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is in the process of reuniting some 2,500 children ages 5 to 17 who were separated from their parents after crossing the border. Many of the separations came as a result of the Trump administration's zero-tolerance policy to prosecute everyone who crosses the border illegally, which went into effect in April.
Sabraw ordered the Department of Homeland Security to reunite the separated families in two stages -- children under 5 by July 10 and the older children by July 26. Last week, U.S. officials reunited more than half of the 103 youngest children, but missed the Tuesday deadline for some who were eligible.
The judge on Monday said he would give lawyers a week to litigate the merits of a permanent one-week delay between reunification and possible deportation.
On Friday, HHS laid out its plan to reunite the older children, but warned a speedy process to do so could put the youngsters in danger.
For the younger children, the government used DNA testing to prove parentage and conducted background checks to ensure the parent had no criminal history that could put the child in danger. Of those families who were not reunited, some parents could not prove parentage and others could put the child at risk, the government said.
DNA tests and full background checks, though, will not be conducted for the older class of children.
"While most children should be safely reunited with their actual parents by the court's deadline, the class if large and the agencies must proceed rapidly and without the procedures that HHS would ordinarily use to place a child with a parent safely," the court filing said.
"While the agencies are committed to complying fully with the court's orders ... the Department of Health and Human Services is concerned that the truncated procedures needed for compliance present significant risk to child welfare."