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Girl, 4, at MercyFirst not reunited with parents Tuesday, official says

A court-imposed deadline calls for all migrant children younger than 5 to be reunited with their parents by Tuesday.

Gerard McCaffery, the president and CEO of MercyFirst,

Gerard McCaffery, the president and CEO of MercyFirst, talks with a reporter in Syosset on June 21. Photo Credit: Jeffrey Basinger

A 4-year-old girl staying at a Long Island shelter wasn't reunited with her parents Tuesday unlike dozens of other migrant children younger than 5 who fell under a judge's order  because she entered the country under different circumstances, an official said.

The girl, who is staying at MercyFirst in Syosset, and about 100 other migrant children younger than 5 have been separated from their parents for weeks after their families crossed into the United States illegally. The federal government expected to reunite about half the children with their parents under a court-imposed deadline of Tuesday.

MercyFirst could not give the circumstances of the girl's entry into the country because of federal privacy regulations, said Gerard McCaffery, the agency's president and chief executive.

In all, 10 migrant children who have been separated from their parents are staying at MercyFirst, McCaffery said. They range in age from 4 to 17 and come from Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Brazil. 

The other nine children are in "a holding pattern," McCaffery said. 

“The focus has been to reunite the kids under 5,” McCaffery said, so little progress has been made on reuniting the older children.

Federal officials estimate there have been about 3,000 children separated from their parents at the border since early May.  Most are staying in shelters. 

A federal district judge in California has ordered the federal government to reunite the older children with their parents by July 26. McCaffery said it is unclear right now whether the nine older children at MercyFirst will be reunited with their parents by the deadline. 

At a hearing Monday, U.S. Justice Department lawyers told another federal district judge in California that the federal government hasn't been able to locate some parents who were released or deported after being separated from their children. Some are in criminal custody or have criminal records that make them ineligible to immediately claim their children.

MercyFirst has had an agreement with the federal government since 2014 to care for unaccompanied minors who cross the border without their parents. In May it also  started receiving migrant children separated from their parents.

Shifts in federal policy made often and quickly have caused confusion about how the children will be reunited with their parents, McCaffery said in late June.

Just as they do with unaccompanied minors, MercyFirst staff members have worked to connect the new arrivals with their parents by telephone or Skype, McCaffery said.

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