(CNSNews.com) - Contrary to reports of mass confusion at the Southwest Border, where the Department of Health and Human Services is under a court order to reunite children with the parents who brought them here illegally, "there is no confusion whatsoever," HHS Secretary Alex Azar told Fox News Thursday morning.
Azar said his department is working against a court-imposed deadline to reunite the 11,800 children with the people who are claiming to be their parents. The process includes DNA testing.
"Every child is accounted for," Azar said. "We know every child, where they are. We know the record -- the last time any kids had their fingernails clipped. We have comprehensive records on 11,800 kids in our care and custody."
The court has imposed what Azar called an "artificial deadline."
"We'll comply with the court's order. Our instructions are clear, our path is clear, we're executing against it. There's no confusion whatsoever."
Azar said child welfare comes first, and he said HHS has dealt with "hundreds of thousands" of separated children in recent years. Some of those children came here illegally with their parents; others were sent here without their parents.
Azar said HHS normally does not send children into the custody of the Department of Homeland Security, because a court order says family units in DHS custody can be detained for no longer than 20 days. Normally, he said, children who cross illegally are separated from their parents and put in HHS custody, but a recent court order ordered HHS to send the children back to their parents being held by DHS.
"Now, we will work with the court -- we are doing so today to get clarification and hopefully support from the court to allow us to do our job -- to ensure that in fact these are parents of the children. And ensure that they are suitable individuals to go back to," Azar said.
"We're doing DNA testing on everybody who claims to be the parent of one of our children to confirm that. We check birth certificates. We have surged 230 HHS people and contractors out to ICE facilities to sit with the parents to get information to prove suitability and parentage of them to work through this process. Because what we care about is the kids' welfare."
Azar said he learned just this morning about two children, both under four years old, whose "purported parents" have been charged with, or convicted of, rape, kidnapping, child abuse and narcotics violations:
"We are supporting child welfare and working to protect these kids. So it may seem easy -- 'Oh, why don't you just send these kids back over to ICE and reunify these families.'
"We have a vital and historic mission here to protect these children, to make sure that these are in fact their parents, and make sure that it is a safe environment that we're placing them back into, and we use every minute of time the court gives us against its deadline to ensure that that mission of child welfare and support for these kids is fulfilled."