A new NBC News report reveals that lawyers appointed by a federal judge to reunite migrant families separated by Donald Trump’s administration say that they can’t find the parents of 545 children. They also claim around two-thirds of those parents were deported to Central America without their children.
In 2018, the Trump administration instituted a “zero tolerance” policy that separated migrant children and their parents at the U.S. and Mexico border. The administration later admitted it had actually begun separating families in 2017 along with parts of the border under a pilot program.
An American Civil Liberties Union filing on Tuesday (October 20) confirmed the separation of families and were tasked with finding parents and children during said program.
"It is critical to find out as much as possible about who was responsible for this horrific practice while not losing sight of the fact that hundreds of families have still not been found and remain separated," Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project, told NBC News. "There is so much more work to be done to find these families.
He continued: "People ask when we will find all of these families, and sadly, I can't give an answer. I just don't know. 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."
Based on data provided by the Department of Homeland Security, more than 1,000 families were separated in 2017. Of those, the “steering committee,” headed up by the ACLU and other organizations, has been able to contact the parents of more than 550 children and believes 25 of them may have a chance to reunify in the U.S.
According to Gelernt, some of the families that have been contacted have chosen to keep their children in the U.S. with family members of sponsors "due to fear of what will happen to their child if they return" to their home countries.
A separate court order also directed that the Trump administration reunite families separated by the 2018 zero-tolerance policy.