Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on Tuesday defended the department's handling of children who have been separated from their illegal immigrant parents at the southern border.
In an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Azar said the department is working to make sure the parents are legit — and so far, has weeded out five adults claiming to be parents who had either failed DNA tests or confessed prior to a DNA test.
"If we hadn't done this work, done our work to protect child welfare by confirming parentage and doing criminal background checks on the individuals, the children would have been reunited in exceedingly dangerous situations," he said, adding: "I believe we are saving kids' lives here, by the work we are doing before, we are connecting these with these purported parents."
Azar added that 16 adults were found "unfit," including five who confessed they were not parents or failed DNA testing.
"The remainder are individuals where a child has, there is one where a child in our custody has made an allegation of child abuse against the individual," he said. "One is charged with murder in their home country. One of them is a kidnapper. One is rape. One child abuse. One smuggler, trafficker.
"Those are just examples of what we are dealing with here. This is serious business dealing with children welfare here. Once we have these kids, we have a duty and working with the court to ensure we are protecting the kids and simple facts show a dangerous situation. The smuggling, importation, and bundling of children into the country is illegally dangerous business."
He said the department has confirmed parentage of 38 people, and is awaiting DNA results –or more information on a criminal background – for another 25.
HHS is scrambling to comply with a court order to reunite children aged 4 and under with families by Tuesday, and children aged 5 to 17 by July 26.
CNN reported, based on information provided in court filings, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw said in a court status hearing Tuesday he believes officials should be able to reunite 63 of the children under 5 with their parents by the deadline or "within the immediate proximity of today."
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