Five days before the first USA government-imposed deadline to reunite migrant parents and children who were separated after crossing the Southwest border, immigration officials are mounting a round-the-clock effort involving hundreds of federal workers to bring the families together, a senior Trump administration official said Thursday.
Mr Azar added that of the 11,800 minors in the care of the health department, "under 3,000" had been reported as separated from their families.
"We have a plan in place to get this job done", he said.
The officials said the records weren't deleted deliberately to hide the family ties, but because the customs agents thought it was more logical to track cases separately rather than as a family unit. He called it an "unprecedented situation in connecting parents and children". DHS has located parents of the youngest children and moved them to detention centers closer to their kids so they can be reunited quickly after the refugee agency releases them. The Trump administration is conducting DNA tests and sorting through case files for the children to determine who their parents are and how to reunite them.
Azar described the court order as "extreme" and said the department won't be able to use its usual methods for parental verification - like checking birth certificates - to meet the deadlines because those processes take longer.
Lee Gelernt, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, argued the government does not have to follow such "lengthy, cumbersome procedures" to reunite separated families. Its database has some information about the children's parents but was not created to reunify families by the court's deadline.
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Jordan and Israel have said their borders would remain closed, even as tens of thousands of Syrians flee the government offensive. Rebels would hand over heavy weapons but would keep the rest until a "real political process" had begun.
Additionally, DNA tests are being done to ensure children are reunited with actual family members. Sixteen children had not been matched, and it remained unclear if they crossed with their parents, she said. "Then we will comply with the court's order and reunify them".
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar pushed back Thursday on reports of mass confusion in the efforts to reunite migrant families.
"When people, with or without children, enter our Country, they must be told to leave without our..." But administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity portrayed the operation as a bureaucratic nightmare involving different computer systems, databases and filing systems, and staffs that have been at odds with one another about how to proceed and what information to share with the public.
Immigration activists say the that DNA data can be easily abused once it is collected by the U.S. government, and may be used to track a migrant's whereabouts. Trump's order stopped separations on June 20. She represents a Guatemalan woman who had an emotional reunion with her 8-year-old daughter this week after being separated for 55 days.
USA officials have reunited around 83 children with their parents so far.
Robert Guadian, a senior official with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), called the process "difficult and time consuming" in court documents filed Friday. He also ordered the government to provide for communications between detained caregivers and their children and not to deport adults without their kids. "It's deplorable they are using the guise of reuniting children to collect even more sensitive data about very young children". Officials said the agency has completed approximately 300 background checks, which include criminal and immigration histories, but still has 1,400 to finish.