"There's always going to be tension between a fast release and a safe release", said Sarah Fabian, a Justice Department attorney.
Depending on background checks, the number of young children reunited with their parents by Tuesday could rise to 59, Fabian told U.S. District Judge Dana M. Sabraw at a hearing Monday morning.
Numerous numbers are still in flux.
The administration said it needed more time to reunite 101 children under 5 years old to ensure the children's safety and to confirm their parental relationships.
But critics warn that very young children cannot give permission for such tests, which they say could ultimately be used for further monitoring, and that the policy shows the government never registered people properly when they were first detained.
"We will investigate and provide the government with a list of children who we think belong on the list", he said. The odds are particularly steep in cases where those parents have already been deported, as the government argued Thursday.
Lee Gelernt, a lawyer with the ACLU who brought the class-action lawsuit on behalf of parents separated from their children even before the administration's zero-tolerance policy took effect in May, told the Sabraw the government's lack of record keeping was "startling".
Before the US reunites a child with a parent, a painstaking process called a "safety and suitability analysis" is conducted to determine whether a parent is fit or doesn't pose a danger to the child, Jonathan White, deputy director for children's programs at the department's Office of Refugee Resettlement, said in a court filing.
The government is using procedures from its process of reuniting unaccompanied minors, which the ACLU argues is not necessary because the children were not unaccompanied until the government separated them from their parents. Children five and older must be reunited within 30 days. He and his two older siblings are now in NY, according to court filings. "They will not remain in ICE custody".
Much of the problem reportedly stems from incomplete records on the immigrant families who were arrested at the border.
About 11,800 minors are now in USA custody after crossing over from Mexico, Azar said.
As they look ahead to reunifications, parents hoping to be in touch with their children via telephone have been stymied by long wait times and high costs.
The court acknowledged that it would consider individual delays on a case-by-case basis.
The filing contained a description of steps undertaken by Health and Human Services to comply with the court order including deploying 115 additional personnel to the field, and contracting with 100 reunification managers who are deploying Friday and Saturday. All three parents in the D.C. lawsuit have spoken with their children, but the Honduran man was only able to speak with his daughter for the first time in almost a month on Tuesday.