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July 6, 2018
Contact: HHS Press Office
[email protected]

HHS Is Executing On Its Mission With Care And Compassion

“HHS knows its mission. We’re executing on that mission, and we’re working to protect the welfare of the children with whom we have been entrusted.” – HHS Secretary Alex Azar

HHS IS EXECUTING ON ITS MISSION: The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) knows the identity and location of every minor in the care of grantees funded through the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).

  • HHS is meeting the needs of the minors in our custody – providing excellent care in a safe, supervised environment through its grantees.
  • The mission of ORR and the Unaccompanied Alien Children program is to place the minors in our custody as expeditiously as possible with a parent, close relative, legal guardian, or other sponsor that has been vetted to ensure that they can provide a suitable environment for the minor.
  • Where years of Congressional inaction has sown confusion, HHS has remained focused on providing compassionate care while complying with the law and court orders.

AN UNPRECEDENTED DEPLOYMENT OF PERSONNEL AND RESOURCES: HHS is expediting the reunification of minors with their parents under the timeline and conditions of a recent court ruling.

  • HHS has deployed more than 230 personnel – 130 from ORR, the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR), the National Disaster Medical System and the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps to improve existing efforts to connect potential parents in the custody of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with minors in HHS custody; 100 additional case managers to supplement, as needed, case managers at grantee facilities.
  • U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps personnel and other resource staff are assisting parents in custody in communicating with their children and to complete reunification packages that are used to confirm parent relationships and to validate safety and suitability of reunification.
  • ASPR – the Department’s lead on logistical and operational support – has focused on three directives:
    1. Generate accurate information regarding separation status of each minor.
    2. Ensure parents and children are in communication with each other as often as feasible.
    3. Work to place minors currently in ORR-funded facilities back with parents as safely and as possible.

ADAPTING THE SYSTEM TO MEET NEW DEMANDS: The Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) program was designed to ensure quality care of minors and place them as soon as possible with a vetted sponsor. It was not designed to track the circumstances under which UAC came into HHS custody.

  • HHS has always ensured the care of children in its custody. The Department performs criminal background checks on potential sponsors as well as other adults in their household to evaluate if there’s any history of violent crime or child abuse, ensure appropriate living arrangements can be made for the minor, and confirms the sponsor’s ability to care for the child.
  • However, as a consequence of the recent district court’s orders, new efforts have had to be made to specifically determine whether a child in HHS custody was separated from a purported parent at the border by the Department of Homeland Security and gather additional information about the purported parent. 
  • This requires reconciling different data sets and sources across the government even while the court ruling has ordered all minors and parents separated at the border to be reunited within distinct timelines for those under the age of 5 and for those from 5 to 17 years of age.

HOW TO COMPLY WITH THE COURT ORDER: HHS personnel have reviewed all the case files of every single minor in ORR care to determine if there is any indication that the minor was separated from a parent.

  • There are over 11,800 minors in HHS custody – over 80 percent are teenagers, mostly males, who crossed the border on their own.
  • A review and audit of multiple datasets has identified that of the more than 11,800 minors, there are under 3,000 who are currently in ORR care where HHS has evidence that they could possibly have been separated from a parent.
  • That is the upper boundary on the size of the population of children who may be affected by the court order requiring reunification with a parent by the court’s deadline.
  • This number is different than those previously released because:
    1. It includes – pursuant to the court’s order – any minors who were separated from a purported parent taken into custody for having crossed illegally as well as those separated for other reasons like concerns for the safety of the child.
    2. It is not limited to those who were separated at the border on or after May 6, 2018, but includes those who were separated at the border before May 6 and those who may have been separated at the border (for those children, HHS is investigating the circumstances of separation).
    3. It includes minors that could have been separated from a parent prior to crossing the U.S. border.
  • This data is being cross checked and reconciled with data from other government agencies, ORR grantees, and UAC case files to determine every child who potentially may or may not be affected by the court’s ruling
  • Additionally, because of the disparate data sets kept for different purposes by different agencies, ORR staff is also talking to every case manager of any child where there may be a question as to whether the child was separated from a parent or someone else. 
  • While continuing to work on the cases of all children affected, HHS has prioritized identifying those who need to be reunited first under the court order – those minors under the age of 5 who meet the criteria of separation set forth by the court. HHS has determined that approximately 100 children may meet that criteria.
  • Even though HHS knows the identity and location of every child in our custody, there are a myriad of scenarios that make it challenging to apply a specific number. For example:
  • Information from children can at times be unreliable. A child traveling with a parent may be separated prior to apprehension at the border and thus will not qualify as “separated” under the court’s order even though the child may tell a case manager that he or she was traveling with a parent.
  • The child may be listed as having been apprehended with who appeared to be a parent based on the information provided at the time, but later case managers, through their review process, learned that that person was not a parent but someone else. 
  • These situations and others are why HHS implemented a thorough auditing and review process to ensure the Department is able to comply with the court ruling.

PLACEMENT WITH A PARENT OR SPONSOR: HHS is working overtime to connect minors with verified parents.

  • HHS is continuing to work overtime to connect minors with verified parents within the current time constraints required by the court.
  • HHS is using DNA testing – a practice normally used by ORR when regular documentation is not available – to expedite verification of parentage and comply with the court’s artificial deadlines. A DNA test is done only when there is a specific parent-child relationship that needs to be validated. It will be used only for this purpose.
  • Vetting for child safety is essential. During the process being done for children under 5, two purported parents were identified in ICE criminal background checks as having criminal histories including charges of child cruelty, rape and kidnapping.

Through the Department of Justice, we have asked the court to either extend the deadlines to allow for the completion of any work that we believe is required to protect child welfare, or give us clear direction to release children before completing such work.

Note: All HHS press releases, fact sheets and other news materials are available at https://www.hhs.gov/news.
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Last revised: July 6, 2018

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