The Trump administration has identified over 2,500 children between the ages of 5 and 17 who have been separated from their parents, according to a new court filing.
According to the filing, there are a total of 2,551 children in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) who could potentially have been separated from their parent after being apprehended for crossing into the U.S. illegally.
However, HHS said it will not – and cannot – reunite all those children with their parents.
“It is not, nor should it be, our objective to reunify all 2,551 minors with the adult whom they arrived here with, because some of those adults are not their parents or pose a clear danger to the children,” the agency said in a statement.
HHS said the 2,551 number is larger than the number of minors separated as part of the administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy because the court case covers minors who were separated for other reasons.
HHS is facing a court-mandated deadline of to reunite those children with their parents.
According to the filing, the administration is working to reunite children with their parents on an expedited basis. That means the parents won’t be given DNA tests, or be subject to the same thorough background checks given to the parents of children under 5 years old.
In the filing, Chris Meekins, chief of staff of HHS’s Office of Preparedness and Response, said he was concerned the truncated process will put children at risk.
“There are many circumstances that preclude a minor from being reunited with a parent, including when a purported parent ends up not being the parent, a parent poses a threat to the child’s well-being, or a parent is in custody elsewhere due to criminal activity,” HHS said.