Outrage Grows as Trump Official Complains Deadline for Putting Kids Back in Parents' Arms Too "Extreme"

"This is a cruel and harmful policy that was aggravated by the administration's lack of basic humanity in thinking ahead of time about how it would bring these families back together."

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Hundreds of thousands of Americans protested against the Trump administration's forcible separation of families at the U.S.-Mexico border last weekend, days after a federal judge ordered officials to reunite families. (Photo: Lindsey Turner/Flickr/cc)

Outrage over the Trump administration's treatment of families who have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border, many seeking asylum, grew on Friday as officials told a U.S. District court that they would likely not be able to meet a deadline set more than a week ago for reuniting parents with their children.

The Health and Human Services Department (HHS), which is responsible for the supervision of unaccompanied migrant children—including those the government took from their parents after introducing its "zero tolerance" immigration police in May—was scheduled to give an update on Friday to Judge Dana Sabraw about its ability to reunite families.

Sabraw last week ordered that children under the age of five must be reunited with their parents by July 10 and all family separations must end by July 26.

According to two Department of Homeland Security officials who spoke to the New York Times this week, some records have been destroyed.

Ahead of Friday's hearing, HHS chief Alex Azar told reporters that the deadlines seemed "extreme" and "artificial"—enraging immigrant rights advocates and Democratic lawmakers.

As many as 3,000 children are currently in government custody in detention centers and foster homes around the nation. The Trump administration is conducting DNA tests and sorting through case files for the children to determine who their parents are and how to reunite them.

Meanwhile, in a case filing ahead of Friday's hearing, HHS wrote that it wanted to ensure children's "safety" when releasing them from government custody and that it may not be able to reunite some families if the parents have been deported.

Critics have found no sympathy for the HHS's request for an extension to solve the crisis the agency itself created, with many arguing that thousands of parents and children have already gone far too long without seeing one another, at the hands of the nation where many of them hoped to be given asylum after fleeing violence and unrest in their home countries.

In light of reports that records about children and parents' whereabouts have been destroyed, Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW) demanded Friday that HHS and DHS be subject to an investigation for potential violation of the Federal Records Act (FRA).

"Rarely, if ever, has a potential violation of the FRA had such grave implications," CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said. "The reportedly destroyed records bear directly on the lives of thousands of immigrants seeking entry to our country, threatening the permanent separation of parents from their children."

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