3,000 migrant children still separated from parents, official says

Erika Holt
July 8, 2018

Lawyers for the Trump administration on Friday asked a federal judge for more time to reunite immigrant children with their parents, the latest signal that the government is struggling to bring families back together after separating thousands as they crossed the U.S. -Mexico border earlier this year. He said none had been transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody yet.

It will be done, he vowed.

The DNA verification has been expedited to comply with the court's timeline, although the government worries that some cases could prove to be more complex and might not be verified by the imposed deadline. In a statement, an administration official said its priority was "to ensure the safety of the children in its custody".

The government has until July 10 to reunite roughly 100 children under the age of five with their parents - and until July 26 to reunite hundreds of other older children. Trump reversed course on June 20 amid an global outcry, saying families should remain together.

Ahead of Friday's hearing, HHS chief Alex Azar told reporters that the deadlines seemed "extreme" and "artificial"-enraging immigrant rights advocates and Democratic lawmakers". They will need more time to collect DNA samples or other evidence from parents who have been released from government custody.

The facilities would have to comply with the standards set by the agreement that governs how children are treated in custody, which include access to medical care, entertainment, counseling and air conditioning; though many who have been detained say the accommodations still feel like prison.

The secretary also said 230 additional workers have been assigned to work on reuniting families.

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The department has manually reviewed the cases of all 11,800 children in its custody by working nights and weekends, White said.

Additionally, DNA tests are being done to ensure children are reunited with actual family members. He also said that adults can not be deported from the United States without their children.

About 11,800 minors are now in United States custody after crossing over from Mexico, Azar said.

The Trump administration has dismissed accusations that its challenges in reunifying families were of its own making. Trump administration officials have been assailed in public by angry protestors. Its database has some information about the children's parents but was not created to reunify families by the court's deadline. In those cases, protections are needed to make sure children are not handed over to adults seeking to exploit them.

In his comments on Thursday, Azar said that "under 3,000" minors were separated from their parents. 'That's the simplest way to avoid this is to follow our laws, respect our border'. The high number of families separated has been a result of the Trump administration's "zero-tolerance" policy, which criminally prosecutes any adult crossing the southern border illegally.

Health and Human Services must determine that a "parent is not 'unfit or presents a danger to the child, '" which means the agency must also have "an independent finding that the individual has not engaged in any activity that would indicate a potential risk to the child", before reunification. If HHS misses the deadline, the judge should jail Azar for contempt of court.

The judge noted that "the government readily keeps track of personal property of detainees in criminal and immigration proceedings. yet the government has no system in place to keep track of, provide effective communication with, and promptly produce alien children".

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