US officials have resorted to DNA testing on up to 3,000 detained children who remain separated from their migrant parents, a top official said Thursday as President Donald Trump’s administration struggles to rapidly reunite families at the center of a border crisis.
The controversial, newly announced procedures are part of government efforts to meet rapidly approaching court-imposed deadlines for reuniting children with their parents, and come as the president himself once again demanded swift action by Congress to fix the country’s “insane” immigration laws.
The Department of Health and Human Services is “doing DNA testing to confirm parentage quickly and accurately,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar told reporters on a conference call, as his team said the procedure was being conducted through “harmless” cheek swabs.
Normally used as a last-resort means of identification — if birth certificates or other documents are unavailable — DNA testing is being used to speed the process to meet a judge’s order to reunite families by June 26, and by next Tuesday for some 100 children under age five.
But Azar portrayed the process as orderly and disputed accusations that the Trump administration has failed to account for some minors.
“HHS knows the identity and location of every minor in the care of our grantees,” he said, adding that authorities were working to reunite children with their parents “as expeditiously as possible.”
About 11,800 minors are currently in US custody after crossing over from Mexico, Azar said. Eighty percent of those are teenagers, mostly males who entered the United States on their own.
Azar refused to provide an exact figure for the total number of detained children who have been split from their parents, only saying that number is “under 3,000” minors and that they are in “excellent” care, with three meals plus snacks each day and time for exercise and entertainment.
The administration had previously said that just over 2,000 separated minors remained in its care.
Azar said reunited families would remain in custody of the Department of Homeland Security as their cases are adjudicated.
The DNA test results are being solely used to accurately connect parents with children, HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Jonathan White said on the call.
“This isn’t some vast sprawling data set that we’re matching up,” he said.
But critics warn that very young children cannot give permission for such tests, which they say could ultimately be used for further monitoring, and that the policy shows the government never registered people properly when they were first detained.
“It’s deplorable they are using the guise of reuniting children to collect even more sensitive data about very young children,” said Jennifer Falcon of RAICES, a Texas-based group that is representing migrant families.
“This would allow the government to conduct surveillance on these children for the rest of their lives.”
– ‘INSANE’ immigration laws –
Meanwhile Trump on Thursday uttered his latest contradictory outburst over the chaotic border crisis.
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.
“When people, with or without children, enter our Country, they must be told to leave without our… Country being forced to endure a long and costly trial,” he wrote.
Trump has spoken out repeatedly against lengthy judicial processes to determine migrants’ eligibility for immigration, asylum or deportation, arguing they are a waste of US resources.
“Congress – FIX OUR INSANE IMMIGRATION LAWS NOW!” he tweeted.
It was the latest conflicting message by Trump to Congress.
Before the June 27 House vote, he said Republicans — who control both chambers — “should stop wasting their time on immigration” until after the midterm elections in November.
Days later he traveled to Capitol Hill to urge Republicans to back the pending bill.
After it failed, Trump insisted he had “never pushed the Republicans to vote for the Immigration bill” because it would not have received enough Democratic support to clear the Senate.
Trump has made fighting immigration — both illegal and legal — a central plank of his fiercely US-centered policy agenda, resulting in the “zero tolerance” immigration approach under which undocumented border crossers were being systematically prosecuted, and their children separated from them.
Faced with a barrage of criticism, Trump signed an executive order to halt the family separations, but made no specific provisions for those already split apart.
‘The election could be over before any votes are cast’: AP reporter breaks down Trump’s recession fears
President Donald Trump's re-election campaign could be destroyed by a recession before a single vote is cast, an Associated Press reporter explained on MSNBC's "Deadline: White House" on Monday.
Guest host John Heilemann read a quote from AP White House correspondent Jonathan Lemire.
"[P]rivately, Trump is growing increasingly worried the economy won’t look so good come Election Day. ... Though a pre-election recession here is far from certain, a downturn would be a devastating blow to the president, who has made a strong economy his central argument for a second term," Lemire reported. "And White House economic advisers see few options for reversing course should the economy start to slip."
‘No comment’: Emails show the VA took no action to spare veterans from a harsh Trump immigration policy
The VA’s approach differs sharply from the Pentagon’s, which won an exemption for active-duty members of the military.
Top officials of the Department of Veterans Affairs declined to step in to try to exempt veterans and their families from a new immigration rule that would make it far easier to deny green cards to low-income immigrants, according to documents obtained by ProPublica under a Freedom of Information Act request.
Pilgrims gather for cosmic-like ritual in Bulgaria’s mountains
Thousands of pilgrims gathered Monday in Bulgaria's Rila mountains to welcome their "spiritual" new year with a cosmic-like dance performed in concentric circles, creating a striking image on the verdant mountain plain.
The white-clad dancers hiked up to Bulgaria's Seven Rila Lakes at an altitude of 2,100 metres (6,900 feet) and performed a special meditative dance known as "paneurhythmy" for more than an hour under the sound of singing and violins.
They are followers of the Universal White Brotherhood -- an esoteric society that combines Christianity and Indian mysticism and was founded by Bulgarian theologian Peter Deunov back in 1897 but banned during communism and still considered a sect by the country's Christian Orthodox Church.