United States says it'll return immigrant children under 5 by next week

Unaccompanied minors are seen at a facility in Bristow Virginia on June 21. 

Handout. Reuters Unaccompanied minors are seen at a facility in Bristow Virginia on June 21

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar pushed back Thursday on reports of mass confusion in the efforts to reunite migrant families.

President Donald Trump reversed course last month and signed an executive order meant to keep families together, but the administration is still facing scrutiny and questions over the families separated as a result of its widely-criticized "zero-tolerance" immigration policy. But during a Thursday call with reporters, Azar said that although HHS officials were working "overtime" to vet parents and ensure that the children in the agency's custody end up where they belong, none of the children with family members who are being held in federal custody have actually been reunited to date.

Azar described the court order as "extreme" and said the department won't be able to use its usual methods for parental verification - like checking birth certificates - to meet the deadlines because those processes take longer. The order, though, didn't address how or when already-separated families would be reunited.

Last week, a federal judge issued a nationwide injunction against family separation, ruling that all kids must be reunited with their parents within 30 days, while those under five must be reunited by Tuesday night.

We think. Why don't we know the exact number? Because the United States government continues to refuse to release any sorts of figures on how many children have been reunited with their parents.

He told reporters hundreds of government employees were using DNA and other information to verify guardianship before reuniting the children with parents being held in detention.

Falcon, communications director for RAICES, a nonprofit in Texas that offers free and low-priced legal services to immigrants and refugees, called the move deplorable because collecting such sensitive data would allow the government to conduct surveillance on the children "for the rest of their lives". More than 80 percent of the minors are teenagers, mostly males, who crossed the border alone.

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In a series of tweets, Trump demanded lawmakers "pass smart, fast and reasonable Immigration Laws" now, after the House of Representatives last month rejected a broad immigration bill that had his support.

Azar signaled that, once reunited, the families will likely remain together in the Department of Homeland Security's custody to await asylum interviews or deportation hearings.

The news comes a week after a California federal judge told the Trump administration it needs to immediately reunite families it had separated as part of its "zero tolerance" policy of criminally prosecuting asylum-seeking parents who enter the USA between official ports of entry.

"If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law". He also set a deadline of Friday for parents to be in phone contact with their children.

Activists say that those children are too young to consent to a DNA test.

Over the previous weekend, and during the Fourth of July holiday on Wednesday, protests took to the streets to oppose Mr Trump's decision to separate families. -Mexico border since Trump initiated his "zero tolerance" immigration policy this past spring. He says when people enter the country illegally, they should be told "OUT", and forced to leave, "just as they would if they were standing on your front lawn".

Azar also stated that the current situation is "partially born out of years of congressional failures to fix our immigration system".

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