More on Policy and Legislation

HHS reunites 57 of 103 migrant children in its custody

Twelve parents declined to take their children - ages 5 and under - with them when they were deported, officials say.

Susan Morse, Managing Editor

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty ImagesPhoto by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

As of Thursday morning, the Department of Health and Human Services and other federal agencies had reunited 57 out of 103 migrant children under the age of 5 who have been in custody due to separations at the border.

Of the other 46 children acknowledged by the court or federal agencies to be ineligible for reunification, 22 have not been placed in their parents' care because of safety concerns due to the adults having criminal histories. Eleven of the charges or convictions are serious, officials said, ranging from human smuggling, domestic violence, kidnapping, child cruelty, narcotics and in one case, murder.

Seven adults were determined not to be the parent. In three cases, DNA tests being used to reunite the families resulted in three adults admitting they were not the parents, according to HHS official Chris Meekins, chief of staff for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response.

One had a falsified birth certificate; another was alleged to have abused the child; one planned to house the child with an adult charged with sexually abusing a child; and one adult is being treated for a communicable disease, HHS said.

Another child was not reunited because the parent had a DUI offense in which he or she skipped the court date and was going to jail.

The other 24 children are not currently eligible for reunification due to circumstances of the adults in question, HHS said. 

In half of these cases, 12 adults were deported without their children. They were given the opportunity to take their child with them and declined, officials said. The government has been working with the adults' countries to reunite the children. But the adults came over the border, paying smuggling fees to get their child here, officials said.

Nine adults are in custody of the United States Marshals Service for other offenses; two adults are in custody of state jails; and one adult's location has been unknown for over a year.

The agencies are working to reunite the second group of children ages 5 and older, said Matthew Albence, executive associate director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

By court order, HHS was mandated to reunite children separated from their parents at the border by Tuesday, July 10. Officials had asked for more time. 

HHS is doing background checks of sponsors and continues to go through the process to find other family members who are in the U.S., Meekins said. 

"For 12,000 kids we have in care, we'll go back through that process," he said.

Last week, HHS Secretary Alex Azar called the court deadline's "extreme." An estimated 3,000 children had been separated from their parents and others had crossed the border alone, he said.

HHS added staff to complete the process.

Twitter: @SusanJMorse
Email the writer: