The efforts are part of a wide-ranging campaign to track down parents separated from their children at the U.S. border beginning in 2017 under the Trump administration’s most controversial immigration policy. It is now clear that the parents of 545 of the migrant children still have not been found, according to court documents filed this week in a case challenging the practice.
About 60 of the children were under the age of 5 when they were separated, the documents show.
Though attempts to find the separated parents have been going on for years, the number of parents who have been deemed “unreachable” is much larger than was previously known.
The new findings highlight the lasting impact of a policy that first came to light with wrenching images of crying children being carried away from their parents at the border and detained hundreds or thousands of miles away. Hundreds of these families, the new filing makes clear, have now endured years of separation.
The Trump administration first provided a court-ordered accounting of separated families in June 2018, stating at the time that about 2,700 children had been taken from their parents after crossing into the United States. After months of searching by a court-appointed steering committee, which includes a private law firm and several immigrant advocacy organizations, all of those families were eventually tracked down and offered the opportunity to be reunited.
But in January 2019, a report by the Health and Human Services Department’s Office of Inspector General confirmed that many more children had been separated, including under a previously undisclosed pilot program conducted in El Paso between June and November 2017, before the administration’s widely publicized “zero tolerance” policy officially went into effect
Under “zero tolerance,” the Trump administration directed prosecutors to file criminal charges against those who crossed the border without authorization, including parents, who were then separated from their children when they were taken into custody. But some parents and children who crossed the border at legal ports of entry were also separated from each other.
Once the existence of a larger group was revealed, the Trump administration fought for months against providing data on the additional families, arguing that it was not necessary because the children had already been released from federally overseen shelters and foster homes into the care of sponsors, who are typically relatives or family friends. The parents of the children had already been deported without them.