Will Racke, DCNF
About one-fifth of a group of young migrant children in government custody cannot be reunited with their parents because of safety concerns, in many cases because the adults are not actually the children’s parents, Trump administration officials said Thursday.
Pursuant to a June 26 court order, the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services are in the process of reuniting 103 migrant children under five years old who were separated from adults after being caught illegally crossing the southwest border. Of those, 57 have been reunited with their parents as of Thursday morning.
But the other 46 are ineligible for reunification based on court-approved criteria and are still in HHS custody, administration officials said. Within that group of ineligibles, 22 children could not be reunited because of “safety concerns” posed by the adults who brought them into the U.S.
The safety concerns were identified during a time-consuming screening process, which includes criminal checks of migrant adults and people in the households where the children will be taken, plus DNA testing to confirm parentage. The thorough check is necessary to ensure that migrant children are not put in harm’s way after leaving government custody, administration officials said.
“Eliminating these steps will endanger children,” Chris Meekins, the chief of staff for HHS’ assistant secretary for preparedness and response, told reporters on a conference call.
Of the 22 children still in custody due to safety reasons, 11 had parents with a “serious criminal history,” including charges or convictions for child cruelty, kidnapping, murder, human smuggling and domestic violence.
In seven other instances, HHS officials determined that adults were not in fact the children’s parents. At least three of those adults admitted to lying about their relationship to the child when officials presented them with DNA testing kits.
The remaining four could not be reunited due to unresolved questions about the parents’ fitness, including one parent who planned to house the child with another adult who has been charged with sexually abusing a child.
The June 26 court order from Judge Dana Sabraw also addressed a much larger group of migrant children between 5 and 17 years old in HHS custody. Those children must be reunited with their parents by July 26, Sabraw said.
The government has to reunite a total of nearly 3,000 children with their parents as a result of Sabraw’s order, according to HHS officials.
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