"Let me be clear: HHS could have transferred every child out of our care to a parent who is now in DHS custody today if we did not take into account child safety or whether the adult is actually the parent", Chris Meekins of Health and Human Services Department said in the call.
The US administration will not meet a July 10 deadline to reunite all children under the age of five with their families.
In a conference call with reporters, Chris Meekins, a senior official with the Department of Health and Human Services, said the reunification process may be going slowly, "but there is no question that it is protecting children". They come amid a tide of national and worldwide outrage over such young children being taken from their parents.
Under normal circumstances the government said it would perform extensive checks on all those in the household where an illegal immigrant child being released from federal custody would end up.
But President Donald Trump has indicated he opposes releasing entire families in most cases.
Some lawyers representing the children, who are in foster systems across the United States, said the government was not telling them what would happen to their young clients.
The civil liberties organization said in a statement Tuesday night that "while the government is now attempting to comply with the court orders, it's failing because of real logistical problems, like missing records or parents whose locations it failed to track". The ACLU claims that the government initially provided incomplete information about the children.
The practice of separating families has been part of the Trump administration's "zero-tolerance" immigration policy, which refers anyone detained at the border for prosecution, including those seeking asylum in the United States. Azar said for another 16 of the 102 migrants under five, the children weren't being reunited because the parents were found to either be "demonstrably unfit" or not to be the parents of the child in question.
"The Trump administration was ordered to reunite more than 100 children with their parents by today", Rep. Pramila Jayapal noted in a tweet on Tuesday.
Sanders breaks with Democrats calling for dismantling ICE
Hartford Police Department said 35 people were arrested. - Justice Democrats (@justicedems) July 3, 2018 This is a good statement. The "Abolish ICE" movement is gaining ground and getting the attention of some Democrats in Congress, including Washington Rep.
"The goal of the [Trafficking Victims Protection Act ] is to promote the best interests of the child and to reunite families", the ACLU had argued.
"The court does appear to acknowledge that parents who cross the border will not be released and must choose between remaining in family custody with their children pending immigration proceedings or requesting separation from their children so the child may be placed with a sponsor", O'Malley said.
"The kids are all over the country", ACLU lawyer Lee Gelernt said.
So the Justice Department asked a federal judge to amend a 1997 ruling that children could not be held for more than 20 days while their parents are in court proceedings.
U.S. Border Patrol agents take a father and son from Honduras into custody near the U.S. -Mexico border, June 12, 2018, near Mission, Texas. The families will be released after they are reunited. "There was no reunification plan in place, and families have been separated for months".
The American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the parents in a class-action lawsuit, said US officials "have not even tried" to return 12 children to parents who were deported, and said officials should have more quickly found eight parents who have been released in the United States.
"We just don't know how much effort the government has made to find released parents", he said.
In the filing, the ACLU criticized the government's work reuniting the children with their parents.