Politics

Lawyers Can't Find Parents Of 545 Children Who Were Separated At The U.S. Border

Several lawmakers reacted to the news that 545 children had been “effectively orphaned” by the U.S. government and called for accountability for all Trump administration officials involved.

Demonstrators march from Foley Square to Brooklyn Bridge as they take part in "Keep Families Together" march to protest President Donald J. Trump administration's immigration policy concerning Muslims and Immigrants from Latin America in New York, United States on June 30, 2018 | Getty Images
Demonstrators march from Foley Square to Brooklyn Bridge as they take part in "Keep Families Together" march to protest President Donald J. Trump administration's immigration policy concerning Muslims and Immigrants from Latin America in New York, United States on June 30, 2018 | Getty Images

The parents of more than 500 children who were separated from their families and deported under Trump administration policy cannot be located, according to lawyers tasked with finding them. At least 360 children are also unaccounted for, according to an ACLU lawyer. 

Lawyers appointed by a federal judge to search for the parents of the separated children have yet to track down the parents of 545 children, and about "two-thirds of [them] are believed… to be in their respective countries of origin,”  according to a court filing Tuesday by ACLU and Department of Justice officials.

The filing is part of an ongoing case by the plaintiffs against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
 
“Some of these children were just babies when they were separated,” Lee Gelernt, a director of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project, told NPR. “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 2018, the Trump administration separated approximately 2,800 families at the U.S.-Mexico border under a “zero tolerance” policy, prompting outrage and widespread protests to “Keep Families Together” across the country. According to NBC News, “the administration later confirmed that it had actually begun separating families in 2017 along some parts of the border under a pilot program.” Under that program, about 1,000 parents were separated from their children, with no plan to reunite them. 

Thousands of families have since been reunited thanks to the work of ACLU lawyers.

“People ask when we will find all of these families and, sadly, I can’t give an answer. I just don’t know,” Gelernt told NBC News, noting that the COVID-19 pandemic had further complicated the search process. “But we will not stop looking until we have found every one of the families, no matter how long it takes. The tragic reality is that hundreds of parents were deported to Central America without their children, who remain here with foster families or distant relatives.”

NBC correspondent Jacob Soboroff, who has reported on and wrote a book on the family separation crisis, told NowThis in September that the Trump administration has continued the practice of family separation in 2020, using the COVID-19 pandemic as a cover.

When asked about the new report, White House deputy press secretary Brian Morgenstern claimed, “Many of them [the parents] have declined to accept their children back...It’s not for lack of effort on the administration’s part.” Soboroff called the claim “preposterous.”

Several lawmakers reacted to the news that 545 children had been “effectively orphaned” by the U.S. government and called for accountability for all Trump administration officials involved.

The group Justice in Motion said it is searching on-the-ground for these parents in Central America and Mexico, and also seeking funding to assist in searches.

"It’s an arduous and time-consuming process on a good day. During the pandemic, our team of human rights defenders is taking special measures to protect their own security and safety, as well as that of the parents and their communities,” the group wrote on Twitter.

Judah Robinson and Versha Sharma contributed to this report.

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