HHS division spokesman walks back comments on future of separated migrant families

HHS division spokesman walks back comments on future of separated migrant families
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The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) walked back comments from a spokesperson late Wednesday, revising an earlier statement that said there would be no special effort from the Trump administration to reunite migrant families separated at the border. 

"An ACF spokesperson misspoke earlier regarding the Executive Order signed today by the President. It is still very early and we are awaiting further guidance on the matter," the department's communications director, Brian Marriott, said in a statement. ACF is a division of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

"Our focus is on continuing to provide quality services and care to the minors in HHS/[Office of Refugee Resettlement] funded facilities and reunifying minors with a relative or appropriate sponsor as we have done since HHS inherited the program. Reunification is always the ultimate goal of those entrusted with the care of [unaccompanied alien children] (UACs), and the administration is working towards that for those UACs currently in HHS custody."

The New York Times on Wednesday cited Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) official as saying that the children will not immediately be reunited with their families while their parents are detained throughout their immigration proceedings. 

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“There will not be a grandfathering of existing cases,” Kenneth Wolfe, spokesman for the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), part of HHS, told the Times. 

Wolfe said the decision about the children would be ultimately be handled by the White House, but said “I can tell you definitively that is going to be policy.”

The administration has faced backlash this week for its zero tolerance policy that resulted in the separation of migrant families illegally crossing the border. 

Trump on Wednesday signed an order intended to end family separations at the border, a practice which has come under bipartisan and global criticism. 

“We’re going to have strong, very strong borders, but we’re going to keep the families together,” Trump said. “I didn’t like the sight or the feeling of families being separated.”

Justice Department officials told the Times that they did not know whether the policy would resume in 20 days if a federal judge does not give the government power to keep families together a longer period of time.  

--Updated 9:28 p.m.