Dozens of HHS personnel have spent nights and the weekend manually reviewing the files of the 11,800 children in its care, looking for indication of separation in the records. The move prompted mass outrage in the United States and internationally.
Although White said DNA will only be used for reuniting families and genetic fingerprints will remain confidential, advocates for migrant families were concerned about intrusiveness. A federal judge said HHS must reunite parents with children younger than 5 by Tuesday, and children between 5 and 17 by July 26.
Generally, the legal bar for separating children from parents is extremely high, involving a finding that "the parent is unfit or presents a danger to the child".
US officials have ordered DNA testing for thousands of migrant children in order to reunite families who have been separated at the US-Mexico border. He said none had been transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody yet.
DNA testing is being conducted as part of the process to reunite children who were separated from their parents at the border, a federal official with knowledge of the reunifications told CNN.
But it's still not clear yet how that will work.
Sabraw's ruling emerged from a class-action lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of parents separated from their children.
Although Azar suggested on Thursday that speedy reunification could risk releasing children to parents who are criminals or risky, the court filing states that the government does not now anticipate any delay based on the need to run background checks by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
"We will do as much as possible up to the deadlines set by the court", he told reporters, adding that about 100 children under the age of 5 were set to be reunited by next week.
Nonetheless, Azar's effort to provide a more accurate accounting only seemed to create more confusion.
Attorneys for the ACLU, which has sued the government over the family separations practice, say they are monitoring the situation and will go back to the court if officials fail to comply with the deadlines. Officials there say they know the locations of all the children - some were sent hundreds of miles away to shelters around the country operated by nonprofits that care for them until a parent or other sponsor is identified. A court hearing on the administration's efforts and plans is scheduled for tomorrow. Once reunited, the families likely would be held together by DHS to await asylum interviews or deportation. "Then we will comply with the court's order and reunify them". But a court agreement on how children are treated in immigration custody generally prevents the government from holding children in detention longer than 20 days.
A Justice Department spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The government says the reunification process is going faster for parents now in ICE custody than those who have been released.
But the process that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has put into place to match up family members will take some time if it is to comply with existing law meant to protect children from human trafficking, the DOJ argues.
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