Ruling delayed on family reunification deadline

Howard TerryJul 07, 2018

Hours before a hearing in San Diego, the Justice Department filed papers seeking an extension of the deadline, which is July 10 for parents with children under 5 and July 26 to reunite everyone else.

Immigration activists say the that DNA data can be easily abused once it is collected by the United States government, and may be used to track a migrant's whereabouts.

Alex Azar, the U.S. health secretary, said yesterday that officials were using DNA taken from cheek swabs of some 3,000 migrant children separated from their families and now under the agency's custody.

An ACLU attorney, Lee Gelernt, said organizations would jump at the chance to help connect the parents with the children.

In mid-June, the Department of Homeland Security said it separated almost 2,000 children from their parents in April and May after the Department of Justice announced a "zero-tolerance" policy to prosecute everyone who crosses the border illegally.

The Trump administration is asking a judge for more time to reunite families who cross the border illegally then seek asylum, saying in court documents that officials are still struggling to match some children with parents arrested at the border.

It added that given the possibility of false claims, "confirming parentage is critical to ensure that children are returned to their parents, not to potential traffickers". He ordered them to reunite children under age 5 - there are 101, according to the most recent court records - with their parents by Tuesday.

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.

But Homeland Security officials told The New York Times on Thursday that the chaos was exacerbated by the fact that customs agents had deleted certain government records that could have been used to reunite the families.

"We will comply even if those deadlines prevent us from conducting our standard, or even a truncated vetting process", Mr. Azar told reporters.

While illegal immigrant children have dogged the government for years, dating back to the Obama administration, this latest go-around has been more pointed because some of it is a result of President Trump's get-tough policy on the border. That process would take longer than the court-ordered deadlines allow, Azar stated.

He added that he believed the complexity of the reunifications was caused by the federal judge's "extreme" deadlines and the U.S. immigration system itself - not the Trump administration.

"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. "To our knowledge, this is a cheek swab and is being done to expedite parental verification and ensuring reunification with verified parents due to child welfare concerns", one official told CNN. This year, HHS also took on the role of caring for children separated from their parents as a effect of the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy.

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

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