USA officials have ordered DNA tests on "under 3,000" detained children who remain separated from their migrant parents, in an effort to reunite families at the centre of a border crisis, a senior official has said.
As Azar complained that courts are engaging in the "micromanagement of child welfare" and imposing "artificial deadlines", he admitted that so far the only children reunited with their parents since the court's deadline have been "for the purposes of joint deportation".
Jonathan White, the HHS assistant secretary for preparedness and response, did not answer reporters' questions Thursday about what happens to the DNA samples after a match is found and what protections are in place to ensure they are not shared with law enforcement or other government agencies.
He noted that some children may have become separated either before or after crossing into the US.
The news comes a week after a California federal judge told the Trump administration it needs to immediately reunite families it had separated as part of its "zero tolerance" policy of criminally prosecuting asylum-seeking parents who enter the US between official ports of entry.
Advocates have been saying for weeks now that family separation or family detention are not the Trump administration's only options.
That number is higher than the one the government previously cited for how many kids have been split from their families.
Azar said the audit was done to make sure the agency was in full compliance with a court order issued after he had given senators a lower number.
Critics also say that the children are too young to consent to a DNA test. He implied that quickly reuniting children with their parents could put them in danger, mentioning two instances of parents who were found to have criminal records including child cruelty, rape and kidnapping. Azar says that the first such deadline is next Tuesday evening.
Handout. / Reuters Unaccompanied minors are seen at a facility in Bristow, Virginia, on June 21.
Stung by a public outcry, the Trump administration said Thursday it will meet court-ordered deadlines for reuniting families separated at the border, even as the politics of immigration remained at a boil. But as many as 3,000 of them show some indication they may have been traveling with a parent and could be subject to the order for speedy reunification. The administration is now fighting in court for the ability to indefinitely detain kids with their parents.
In a reversal last month, after family separations at the border triggered a groundswell of opposition, Trump ordered that detained migrant families be kept together if possible.
The government has allegedly started collecting DNA to reunite migrant children with their families, a federal official told CNN on Thursday. That's the case only if the government refuses to release parents with their children, as it has in the past.
In the past, families detained while crossing the U.S. -Mexico border were often released from custody to pursue their immigration cases while living freely in the United States, but the Trump administration has made clear that it intends to end what it derides as "catch and release" immigration policies.
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