Originally published by Politico
The Trump administration, responding to a federal judge's sharp admonition, provided an updated plan Sunday about how it will verify the parentage of older children in detention.
U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw scolded the Health and Human Services Department Friday, saying it was using safety concerns as "cover" to avoid meeting his July 26 deadline to reunite with their parents all 2551 children aged 5 to 17 who were detained at the border.
Sabraw previously ordered HHS to return to their parents by July 10 all 102 children under 5 who were detained at the border. In response, HHS reunited all but 46, saying these children were ineligible for reunificaiton because verification wasn’t complete or because of safety concerns.
The new plan that HHS submitted Sunday differed from an earlier plan in clarifying that HHS will use methods other than DNA testing to verify parentage for most older children. These children, government attorneys noted, have better language skills and can communicate more reliably with caseworkers.
In its earlier plan, HHS officials had provoked Sabraw's ire by suggesting they couldn't verify parentage properly within the court’s timeline — and if they sped to meet the deadline some children might be handed over to adults who weren’t their parents, be placed with an abusive parent, or be placed in some other dangerous situation.
Sabraw replied Friday that HHS officials, “seem to be operating in a vacuum where they are either not reading the court’s orders or they are reading the court’s orders and selectively plucking out the provisions it likes and then disregarding the ones it does not like,” according to a court transcript.
“I would like someone with decision-making authority from HHS in court Monday [morning] at 9:30,” Sabraw said. “I have a real concern about a disconnect between HHS and, for example, government counsel … something is being lost in translation.”
In the earlier HHS filing, Chris Meekins, deputy assistant secretary of preparedness and response, argued that a “truncated“ vetting process to meet the court’s July 26 deadline to return children to their parents “materially increases the risk of harm to children.”
“While I am fully committed to complying with this court’s order,” Meekins wrote, “I do not believe placing children into such situations is consistent with the mission of HHS or my core values.“
In a written statement Friday night, HHS spokeswoman Evelyn Stauffer stood by Meekins’ comments but said the department would continue following court orders.
“In the interests of transparency and cooperation, the department felt it necessary in our filings on Friday to share with the court our view that meeting the deadline would mean truncating the process we might have otherwise followed,” Stauffer said.
During Friday's status conference, Sabraw suggested that HHS‘ truncated process wasn’t what the court instructed.
“It has been stated many times, orally and in writing, that the government has an absolute 100 percent obligation to meet these deadlines and to do it safely,“ Sabraw said. “And that means determining parentage.”