HHS defends decision to shorten family reunification vetting process

HHS defends decision to shorten family reunification vetting process
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The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is defending its expedited plan to reunite separated migrant children with their parents, claiming that its truncated vetting procedures are necessary to comply with court orders.

A spokeswoman for the agency said Saturday that HHS is not undertaking "fuller" vetting procedures because of a court decision requiring the agency to reunite roughly 2,500 migrant children with their parents by July 26.

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"The department has been operating in good faith and earnestly trying to comply with court orders, including the rapidly approaching deadline for reunification," said HHS spokeswoman Evelyn Stauffer. "Our interpretation of the court’s order is that HHS must make a determination of parentage, fitness, and safety before reunifying families, but that HHS need not undertake the fuller process of vetting for children’s safety that HHS would ordinarily conduct in its operations."

"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," she added.

Stauffer's statement came after the agency wrote in a court filing Friday that shortening the process of vetting migrant parents could lead to some children being placed in “potentially abusive environments.” Under the expedited process, parents won't be given DNA tests or be subjected to the same thorough background checks given to the parents of children under 5 years old.

U.S. Judge Dana Sabraw responded to the filing, calling any situation in which a child was placed in a potentially harmful situation after being separated from their parent a "failure" of the agency.

"That is on the government,” Sabraw said, according to a transcript of a conference call on Friday obtained by The Washington Post. “And that’s a failure of the process and it is inconsistent with the court’s order.”