US Seeking to Delay Reuniting Immigrant Children With Parents

Unaccompanied minors are seen at a facility in Bristow Virginia on June 21. 

Unaccompanied minors are seen at a facility in Bristow Virginia on June 21. 

This isn't a ideal equation; we don't know whether the children released from HHS custody were reunited with parents - only that they're no longer in one of the agency's shelters.

In a June 26 ruling, U.S. District Judge Dana M. Sabraw in San Diego ordered federal officials to bring the families back together within 30 days.

"We have to protect children from people who would prey on them", he said.

U.S. officials have resorted to DNA testing on up to 3,000 detained children who remain separated from their migrant parents, a top official said Thursday as President Donald Trump's administration struggles to rapidly reunite families at the center of a border crisis. He called it an "unprecedented situation in connecting parents and children".

More than 2,300 migrant children have been separated from their parents since early May under the Trump administration's controversial policy, which seeks to criminally prosecute anyone crossing the border illegally.

Azar did not provide an exact figure for the total number of detained children who have been split from their parents, only saying that number is "under 3,000" minors and that they are in "excellent" care, with three meals plus snacks each day and supervised exercise and entertainment.

Due to those missing records, the Health and Human Services department has been plunged into a messy, laborious process to determine which children were separated from their parents at the US-Mexico border, and which arrived in the country unaccompanied. "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".

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News reported that the DOJ requested an extension of the court-mandated deadlines to reunite children with their parents.

However, Azar warned that entire families may remain in the custody of immigration authorities for extended periods, even those who are claiming asylum.

The court hearing-part of a dramatic legal battle between the American Civil Liberties Union and the administration-followed Sabraw's order last week requiring the government to quickly reunite separated families. It's done by swabbing the inside of the cheek of parent and child and sending the results to a lab for comparison.

About 11,800 minors are now in U.S. custody after crossing over from Mexico, Azar said. It took a court order from Judge Sabraw to force the government to begin reuniting children with their parents.

Even as the Trump administration implemented its zero tolerance crackdown on immigration - which saw immigrant children split up from their parents and transferred to specifically designated shelters and foster care systems run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement - reports emerged that the government was ill-equipped to undo the logistical nightmare it had set into motion.

Another complicating factor, he said, is that some children being held by immigration officials may not qualify for immediate reunification under the court's order because they became separated from their parents during their journey and not by border agents after their entry into the United States. He said 100 kids in HHS custody now are under the age of 5.

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