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HHS says 2,047 separated children still in custody, won't say whether still receiving kids

Last Updated Jun 27, 2018 12:09 PM EDT

A Department of Health and Human Services official said Tuesday that 2,047 children who were separated from their families under the "zero tolerance" policy are currently in the care of HHS' Office of Refugee Resettlement. That is only a slight decrease in the number of children HHS reported having custody as of last Wednesday.

Commander Jonathan White, Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response at HHS, said that a total of 11,800 children nationwide are in the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement's shelter network. Eighty-three percent of them are minors under the age of 18 who entered the U.S. without legal status, unaccompanied by a parent or legal guardian. 

Officials didn't say Tuesday whether HHS is still receiving children as a result of the child separation policy. When pressed about the issue by reporters on a conference all, they didn't answer the question.

In separate remarks Tuesday, HHS Secretary Alex Azar said "several hundreds" of children in shelters have been placed in the custody of their parents or other relatives. 

Amid an international outcry, President Trump last week issued an executive order to stop the separation of families and said parents and children will instead be detained together. But so far, relatively few families have been reunited, and the Trump administration has disclosed almost no information on how the process will be carried out or how long it will take. 

Immigration attorney Luis Mancheno of The Bronx Defenders told CBSN he's concerned about the lack of planning or a clear system for returning children to their families, especially since many have been sent to shelters as far away as New York or Seattle.

He also disputed the idea that all of those crossing the border are breaking the law.

"The majority of people who are coming here now are seeking asylum, are seeking protection, because they have faced horrible forms of violence, or war, or different forms of horrific things back home," Mancheno said. "It's our international duty to protect every single people who seek asylum in our country."

And far from President Trump's claim that immigrants are "bringing crime" to the U.S., Mancheno says most are "fleeing from that violence, fleeing from criminal activity. They are the victims of crime, in fact."

"The Cato Institute, which is a pretty conservative think tank, they did a study that found that native American-born — people that are born in the U.S. — are more likely to commit crimes than the people who are coming here as immigrants," he said.

"And not only that — study after study has shown that immigrants bring so much economic prosperity to the towns where they are arriving. They are more likely than Americans to actually open a business. And in general they have been able to feed our economy and put it in the place where it is right now."

Outraged by the family separations, immigrant supporters have led protests in recent days in states such as Florida and Texas. On Tuesday, 17 states, including New York and California, sued the Trump administration to force it to reunite the thousands of immigrant children and parents it separated at the border, as pressure mounted to reconnect families more quickly.

And late Tuesday, a federal judge in California ordered the government to reunite separated children with their families within 30 days.

Meanwhile, administration officials have been casting about for more detention space for migrants, with the Pentagon drawing up plans to hold as many as 20,000 at U.S. military bases. 

The administration has asked the courts to let authorities detain families together for an extended period while their immigration cases are resolved. Under the terms of a 1997 court settlement, children must be released from detention within 20 days.