The administration says federal law requires it to ensure that children are safe and that requires more time. Because children can't be in jail with their parents, more than 2,300 families caught by Border Patrol were separated.
The ORR program "was not created to track the circumstances" behind a child's arrival in the U.S., Azar said, and the Department of Homeland Security didn't tell the refugee agency which children were taken from parents and which came over the border unaccompanied. This year, HHS also took on the role of caring for children separated from their parents as a outcome of the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy. Usually, the agency places kids with a US relative or foster family while their immigration cases are decided. As of Thursday, Health and Human Services said "under 3,000" children were still separated from their families.
Most of the 11,800 are tradition UAC whose parents sent them to the border, or who came on their own, without any parent.
The Trump administration said it may need more time to reunite the migrant families it separated at the border because it is still figuring out which kids it took from which parents, according to a court filing ahead of a hearing on Friday.More news: Second Trump-Kim Meeting in NYC?
Administration officials also say that they won't be able to confirm a child's parentage by the deadline if DNA testing is inconclusive. Another top official leading the effort said in the court filing that, although officials were working nights and over the weekend, they may be unable to quickly match some families because the tests were inconclusive, or the parents were released from custody and have not yet been found. "At the same time, however, the government has a strong interest in ensuring that any release of a child from government custody occurs in a manner that ensures the safety of that child". The order, though, didn't address how or when already-separated families would be reunited. By July 10, children under 5 must be reunited with their parents.
Azar said the US government was relocating parents of children under 5 years old to detention facilities close to their children to help speed up family reunification.
The Department of Health and Human Services "knows the identity and location of every minor in the care of our grantees, and HHS is executing on our mission even with the constraints handed down by the courts", he said.
ICE has so far flown 23 parents on commercial airlines to detention facilities closer to where their children are being housed to facilitate reunions.More news: Netflix Testing New 'Ultra' Plan Subscription With Higher Price In Europe
The new policy faced backlash from immigrant advocates and lawmakers from the Democratic and Republican parties, and on June 20, President Donald Trump signed an executive order ending the practice of separating families.
He scheduled Friday's hearing for an update on compliance with his order. Children five and older must be reunited within 30 days. That lawsuit was filed even before Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the "zero tolerance" policy in April, promising to prosecute all illegal border crossers.
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 news: India beat England by eight wickets in opening T20