Attorneys working to reunite children separated from their families as part of President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy said Tuesday that they’ve been unable to reach the parents of 545 children, according to a report filed in court.
The children were separated from their parents between July 1, 2017, and July 26, 2018, when a federal judge in San Diego ordered children be reunited with their families. The American Civil Liberties Union had sued over the immigration policy, which called for prosecutors to pursue cases against all people suspected of illegally crossing into the U.S. from Mexico. The president issued an executive order ending the practice in 2018.
According to the ACLU, the policy resulted in more than 2,600 migrant children being separated from their parents or caregivers. The numbers include up to 1,556 children who were separated from their families during a trial run at family separation that ran from July to November 2017 in El Paso, Texas, according to The Associated Press.
“What has happened is horrific,” Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project, told NPR. “Some of these children were just babies when they were separated. Some of these children may now have been separated for more than half their lives. Almost their whole life, they have not been with their parents.”
In a court filing Tuesday, Justice Department and ACLU officials said the court-appointed steering committee tasked with reuniting families has so far failed to locate the parents of 545 children. Officials said they suspect most of the children’s parents have returned to their home countries.
Volunteers had been conducting “time-consuming and arduous on-the-ground searches for parents in their respective countries of origin,” though officials said the searches were paused in March due to the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Officials said Tuesday that “limited physical on-the-ground searches” have since resumed “where possible to do so while protecting the health of personnel working with the Steering Committee and members of vulnerable communities in separated parents' home countries.”
“Even before Covid, it was hard enough finding these families but we will not stop until we’ve found every one,” Gelernt told CNN.
The steering committee has located the parents of 485 other children, up 47 from August.
The steering committee has established toll-free numbers in the U.S., Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and El Salvador to help reunite families. The committee has also planned outreach in Spanish-language media to publicize the numbers.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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