Trump administration seeks more time to reunite families

Cheryl Sanders
July 6, 2018

"It's not here", Azar said, adding that migrant children are being well cared for in HHS facilities.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told reporters on Thursday that the government now has just under 3,000 separated immigrant children in its care, backtracking on previous claims that the number was closer to 2,047. According to HHS, it's because the number of immigrant children in the agency's care is always in flux - and because they are working with other agencies to cross-check the numbers they have.

On Thursday, a leading House Republican and Democrat teamed-up to request from Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen documents and other information about each child separated from their parents, including where they are being detained and for how long. As of Thursday, Health and Human Services said "under 3,000" children were still separated from their families.

"It's deplorable they are using the guise of reuniting children to collect even more sensitive data about very young children", said Jennifer Falcon of RAICES, a Texas-based rights group representing migrant families.

The Trump administration said it may need more time to reunite the migrant families it separated at the border because it is still figuring out which kids it took from which parents, according to a court filing ahead of a hearing on Friday.

In Friday's court filing, the federal government asked the court if it will still be in compliance with the 30-day deadline if it struggles to meet it in cases in which it is hard to confirm parentage. "But given the possibility of false claims of parentage, confirming parentage is critical to ensure that children are returned to their parents, not to potential traffickers".

Azar said Thursday morning that an army of government workers had been dispatched to review files and conduct DNA testing to match parents with their children.

Faced with a barrage of criticism, Trump signed an executive order to halt the family separations, but made no specific provisions for those already split apart.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement, the division of Health and Human Services responsible for caring for Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC), has 11,800 in its dorms and shelters.

A court order has bound the agency to reunite children who are aged four or less by July 10.

A court hearing was scheduled Friday.

The Trump administration has been facing continued scrutiny and questions over what will happen to the undocumented families who were separated as a result of the administration's widely criticized "zero-tolerance" immigration policy. He called it an "unprecedented situation in connecting parents and children".

Azar also revised upward the number of migrant children being held to "under 3,000", a week after saying the number was closer to 2,000.

"It's important to remember that information from children can at times be unreliable", Azar said in a conference call with reporters. Republicans are divided among hardliners and business-oriented moderates who don't see immigration as a threat. Administration officials said it was a temporary measure only to free up space in processing centers. He says when people enter the country illegally, they should be told "OUT", and forced to leave, "just as they would if they were standing on your front lawn".

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