The parents of 445 migrant children separated from their families due to Trump administration policies at the US-Mexico border between 2017 and 2018 have still not been located, down from 506, according to a Wednesday court filing.
The filing from the Justice Department and the American Civil Liberties Union is part of an ongoing effort to identify and reunite families three years after the so-called “zero tolerance” policy was created.
Since February, the parents of 61 of those children whose whereabouts were previously unknown have been found, according to Wednesday’s filing.
Under then-President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, border officials separated at least 2,800 children from their parents, according to government data. Officials later found at least 1,712 more children had been separated from their families before Trump’s policy went into effect.
Days after President Joe Biden took office, he signed an executive order creating a task force of federal agencies to identify and reunite families who had been separated at the US-Mexico border under the Trump administration. It’s housed in the Department of Homeland Security.
In February, US District Judge Dana Sabraw, who’s been overseeing the case, expressed optimism about the litigation coming to an end soon in light of the change in administrations and the newly established task force.
“This is a unique circumstance in that, with the change of administration, the defendants … are completely aligned with the plaintiffs,” Sabraw said, citing Biden’s executive order. “The executive branch is in the best position by far, among the three branches, to rectify this situation.”
“This joint effort is exciting in many ways. I’m very optimistic in that regard with respect to ultimately bringing this litigation to a conclusion sooner rather than later with both sides working together and collaboratively,” Sabraw added.
Reviewing 5,600 files
Earlier Wednesday, a senior Department of Homeland Security official told reporters the administration is reviewing an additional 5,600 files to determine whether more children had been separated from their families at the US-Mexico border during the Trump era than previously known.
“The records are inconsistent and incomplete. We’ve now identified, as I mentioned, over 5,600 new files that were not reviewed at that time,” the official said, citing ongoing litigation that’s required a scrub of files. “This is a manual process, manually going through each file looking for clues. It’s our hope and expectation that this process will reveal only a few additional families, but it’s important to look through them and make sure.”
The files are mostly from January 20, 2017, until July 2017 and will be cross-checked with information in other government databases to confirm whether any of those included separations.
“Our current focus is to build the system that will accommodate the safe and secure process necessary to reunite these families,” the official said, adding that the task force has identified issues with record keeping along the way.
“There’s also a lot of missing information in the files and wrong dates, confusion in names, doubled-up cases, and those are just a few of the issues we’re discovering,” the official said. “We want to make sure that we do everything possible to ensure that we have all the correct information before we embark on large-scale reunifications.”