On June 20, the Department of Health and Human Services said there were 2,053 children from separated families in its care. According to HHS, it's because the number of immigrant children in the agency's care is always in flux - and because they are working with other agencies to cross-check the numbers they have.
That's presenting a problem as the administration seeks to reunite the families under a court order issued last week. He also ordered that parents have phone contact with their children by Friday.
The government says the reunification process is going faster for parents now in ICE custody than those who have been released. Of those, about 100 are aged under five and must be reunited with their families by Tuesday.
It's been more than a week since they released a tally of how many kids from separated families remain in government custody.
"We want to ensure that we can reunite children who have been separated from their families as expeditiously as possible", wrote Representative Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican, and Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat. HHS said it's using DNA testing as a backup to confirm the parent-child link and speed up the process.
Going forward, the DOJ says that it intends to detain families together in immigration custody - a solution it argues complies with both Sabraw's order as well as the Flores Agreement, a court settlement that limits the amount of time children can be held in immigration detention.
The lawyers informed the court they may not be able to comply with the court-ordered timeline for reunification because some families may no longer in government custody, due to parole or release - which then extends the time needed to vet the parent to ensure parentage and child safety.
Although White said DNA will only be used for reuniting families and genetic fingerprints will remain confidential, advocates for migrant families were concerned about intrusiveness.
The separations have sparked a fierce outcry and numerous protests, part of a political firestorm over U.S. President Donald Trump's "zero tolerance" immigration policy and beefed-up efforts to deter illegal U.S. entry.
The government is also asking the court to leave out of the ruling parents who have already been deported, citing "the complexities involved in locating individuals who have been removed, determining whether they wish to be reunified with their child, and facilitating such a reunification outside of the United States".
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. He called it an "unprecedented situation in connecting parents and children". A court hearing on the administration's efforts and plans is scheduled for tomorrow.
Also on Thursday, CBS News reported that a federal policy loophole allows two child migrant detention centres - the "Tent City" in Tornillo, Texas and a shelter in Homestead, Florida - to evade child welfare inspections required of other shelters. The mothers have since been reunited with their children.
Part of that policy was the zero-tolerance approach to illegal immigrants, announced in early May, which saw Border Patrol agents refer - and prosecutors pursue cases on - almost everyone caught jumping the border.