Federal officials said 34 young children taken from parents at the border under a zero-tolerance policy will be reunited with parents today, but dozens of others will not be reunited in time to comply with a court deadline.
The 34 children all under the age of 5 “are expected to be reunited or are being reunited today,” Chris Meekins, chief of staff of the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response at the Department of Health and Human Services, said during a conference call with reporters Tuesday.
Another four young children were reunited with parents prior to the July 10 deadline, Meekins said.
A federal judge in San Diego has ordered the government to reunite all of the 100 children under 5 taken from parents at the border by today. In all, a total of 38 young children will be reunited by the end of today, Meekins said.
ICE officials said the agency had moved parents to staging areas to be reunited with their children today and that most were being released with GPS ankle monitoring bracelets to ensure they complied with requirements to report for immigration court hearings. On Tuesday morning, vans were seen shuttling in and out of child shelters in Phoenix and a nearby ICE office.
Meekins said the Department of Health and Human Services was working to comply with the court order to quickly reunite children separated from parents at the border.
But he said the agency’s main priority was ensuring the safety of the children. He said separated children would not be reunited until officials had a chance to conduct criminal background checks on parents as well as using DNA testing and other means to verify that people claiming to be parents were indeed the children’s parents.
“HHS has been executing a plan with our inter-agency partners to safely and expeditiously reunite children with their verified parents in accordance with the court order,” Meekins said. “Let me be clear, HHS could have transferred every child out of (the agency’s) care to a parent who is in DHS custody today, if we did not take into account child safety or whether the adult is actually the parent.”
By Daniel Gonzalez for AZCENTRAL
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