US tells court migrant families may not be reunited by deadline

HHS Secy Pushes Back on Reports of Mass Confusion in Reuniting Migrant Families

HHS Secy Pushes Back on Reports of Mass Confusion in Reuniting Migrant Families

Azar said HHS is working "overtime" to confirm that the people who purportedly are parents of those children actually are their parents, and is also checking to see if any parents have a background that makes them unsafe to receive a child.

The U.S. government must provide a list by Saturday evening of the estimated 100 children under the age of 5 who were separated from their parents when entering the United States, a federal judge ordered on Friday.

"We have a vital and historic mission here to protect these children", he said.

Alex Azar, the secretary of Health and Human Services, told reporters on Thursday that under 3,000 children in total were separated by the government, though he couldn't specify the exact number. "You've taken a child from the parent".

More than 2,000 children were separated from their parents after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in May that the zero-tolerance policy was in full effect, even if it meant that families were to be separated as a outcome.

Whether or not the government does use the DNA tests to reunite families, the administration has a lot of work to do to meet the court-ordered deadlines - at the time of his conference call with the press, Azar said the government had yet to reunite any of the separated migrant children with their families. While parents were criminally prosecuted, children were placed in custody of the Health and Human Services Department.

Health and Human Services also claimed in the court documents that it "knows the names and locations of all children who are in (Office of Refugee Resettlement) care and custody at all times because ORR maintains that data in its online case management portal", but says the portal was not created to include certain details regarding the parents which Department of Homeland Security may hold or the parent may have. The court order, Azar said, "goes back indefinitely".




"We will comply [with the court] even if those deadlines prevent us from conducting a standard or even a truncated vetting process", Mr Azar said.

Falcon, communications director for RAICES, a nonprofit in Texas that offers free and low-priced legal services to immigrants and refugees, called the move deplorable because collecting such sensitive data would allow the government to conduct surveillance on the children "for the rest of their lives".

But without a response to questions about how many reunions have occurred - or at least an updated figure on the number of kids from separated families who remain in custody - the public has no way to track whether families are being reunited or how quickly it's occurring.

Officials have said they'll comply with the judge's order, but they haven't specified what steps they'll take to do that.

The case is Ms. L et al v. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement et al, 18-cv-428, U.S District Court, Southern District of California (San Diego).

Government officials feel aggrieved in general at the stress caused by their practice, now halted, of separating parents and children in enforcing misdemeanor border-crossing crimes. The court documents say that the government has identified "approximately 101 minors under age 5" under the care of HHS's Office of Refugee Resettlement.

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