Deadline Looms But U.S. Won’t Say How Many Separated Children It Is Holding

With the deadline fast approaching to reunite separated children with their parents, the federal government won’t say how many separated children they still have in custody, according to a new report from TIME Magazine.

Two weeks ago President Donald Trump issued an executive order ending his administration’s policy of separating families at the U.S.-Mexico border. And then last Tuesday a federal judge issued a court order saying that children under 5 years of age must be reunited with their parents within 14 days. This means that the government has just a week left to comply with this court order. (Children over age 5 have to be reunited within 30 days.)

TIME contacted the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and asked them how many children are still being held in HHS facilities. An HHS spokesperson said they could not say how many of the children in their care had been separated from their parents or guardians.

“While we understand the interest in detailed breakdowns of this information, our mission has been and remains to provide every minor transferred to HHS, regardless of the circumstances, with quality and age-appropriate care and a speedy and safe release to a sponsor,” said an email from HHS. “Currently, there are more than 11,800 minors in our care, including unaccompanied minors who crossed the border without an adult accompanying them.”

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According to the HHS email the agency won’t provide the number of separated children in its custody because it is “evaluating the impact of that court order and because of the constantly changing number of unaccompanied children in our care.”

HHS Secretary Alex Azar last week testified before Congress that there were 2,047 separated minors were being held by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). But Efren Olivares of the Texas Civil Rights Project, the Trump Administration has not offered any evidence that it has a plan to reunite parents and children after separating them at the border.

According to Olivares, his organization is working with 381 separated families and the federal government has not done anything to help families become reunited.  In fact, he said that they have confirmed at least five cases where a parent has been deported back to Central America while the U.S. government still is holding their children in custody.

In protest of this U.S. policy of separating children, on Saturday there were demonstration in nearly 700 cities as part of the Families Belong Together rallies.

Still, the Trump Administration is up against a tight court-imposed deadline to reunited separated parents and children. With no plan in place and no evidence of reunification of families taking place, there is doubt whether the government will be able to meet the deadline.

Federal officials, however, say they are working to reunify families quickly and Azar testified that “several hundred” families had been reunited. Olivares, however, said he has not seen evidence of the reuniting of families, and he is worried that the government won’t say how many separated children it has in its care.

“It appears that at some point, the order came down to separate the children from their parents and they started taking the children with no plan in mind to reunite them,” Olivares says. “That’s why now they’re scrambling way after the fact to come up with a plan to reunite them and now they’re working against the clock with this injunction.”

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