Separated immigrant families won’t be reunited immediately, government official says

WASHINGTON (AP) — The more than 2,300 children separated from their parents at the border as a result of President Donald Trump's "zero-tolerance" policy on illegal crossings won't be reunited with their families immediately, a Department of Health and Human Services official said Wednesday.

Kenneth Wolfe, a spokesman for the department's Administration for Children and Families, says their cases will proceed through the system.

The children who are separated from their families are turned over to HHS within 72 hours and are then categorized as unaccompanied minors who are eventually placed with sponsors. Officials have said they were working to reunite families as soon as possible but provided no clear answers on how that was going to happen.

Trump on Wednesday signed an executive order that stopped the separations.

A senior Justice Department official says Trump's executive order is just a stopgap measure to end the separation of families as they cross the border illegally and face criminal prosecution.

Gene Hamilton, the Counselor to the Attorney General, says Homeland Security officials can only detain families for up to 20 days. He says that hasn't changed, but government lawyers will file a challenge to a settlement that governs how children caught at the border are treated. He says they will ask the judge to allow for detention of families indefinitely.

Trump signed an order Wednesday that prioritized cases of families who cross the border illegally and directed Homeland Security officials to detain them together.

Meanwhile, Wolfe said HHS is paying up to $775 a day per child to house some migrant children.

Wolfe said that's the average estimated cost for children in temporary shelters. The cost isn't related to whether the children were separated from parents, but to the type of federal facility they're in. Wolfe says permanent shelters cost less, $256 a day per child. Temporary shelters cost more because they must be set up in short order.