According to court documents filed by federal officials on April 5, it may now take up to two years to locate and identify thousands of immigrant children that were separated from their parents at the southern border within the past two years.
After an investigation by government auditors in January, a report revealed that the Trump administration had likely separated thousands more children from their parents than was believed previously. A federal judge has since requested that the government present a plan to identify the kids and their parents and reunite them.
Although the Trump administration made its “zero-tolerance” immigration policy public in the spring of last year, government records show that many families included in the court report were separated before that. Beginning shortly after the policy was unveiled, the administration began prosecuting nearly all adults attempting to enter the United States and placing their children in shelters, foster care, or with designated relatives in the United States.
After statistically analyzing over 47,000 children that were put in the hands of the Office of Refugee Resettlement and then discharged, the government stated that they would then manually review the cases with children identified as having the highest probability of being separated from their families.
Government officials issued a statement saying that the process will take at least a year, but it will likely take closer to two years. When asked about the length of the identification of the children, the Office of Refugee Resettlement did not respond for comment, but Customs and Border Protection stated that they did not collect in-depth data on immigrant families until April 2018.
The government’s plan to identify separated families originated from a class-action lawsuit in which Judge Dana Sabraw of a Southern California United States District Court demanded the reunification of immigrant families separated by the Trump administration. Trump overturned the policy the same month.
According to representative Lee Gelernt of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who argued against the policy, around 2,800 children have actually been placed back with their families or placed elsewhere according to their parents’ request. In March, Judge Sabraw ruled that a large group of families that was unaccounted for due to the United States government’s ineffective tracking system should be included in the mandate.
The government may now be responsible for identifying and locating all families that entered or attempted to enter the country on or after July 1, 2017, which is the earliest recorded date of families being separated or detained by immigration officials at the border under the Trump administration. Although the government previously identified a group of children for reunification, the only children included were those that were detained at the time of the reunification order.
The government argued in court that the process would be “burdensome,” but Mr. Gelernt believes that the process should take months instead of years, saying that “if the government believed finding these children was a priority, they could do it quicker than two years.”