Lawyers that were appointed by federal judges to reunite families that were separated at the border by the Trump administration state that they cannot locate the parents for 545 children that were taken from their parents at the border.
The lawyers also share that about two-thirds of the parents were deported back to Central America without their children. This information became public through a filing made on Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Back in 2018, the Trump administration enacted a “zero tolerance” policy that separated families at the border. Later it was discovered that the administration had started separating families in 2017 before the policy was put in place.
During the pilot program, pro-bono law firms were left with the difficult task of trying to reunite the family members.
The big issue bow is that over 1,000 parents that were separated from their children under Trump’s pilot program were deported before a federal judge in California ordered that they be located.
“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 stated. “There is so much more work to be done to find these families.”
He adds, “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.”
The ACLU says more than 1,000 families were separated in 2017 based on data provided by the Department of Homeland Security. Of those, the committee has been able to contact the parents of over 550 children. They believe that 25 of them may get the opportunity to be reunited in the US.
Gelernt adds that some of the families that have been contacted have elected to keep their children in the U.S. with family members or sponsors “due to fear of what will happen to their child if they return” to their home countries.
The nonprofit group Justice in Motion is physically searching for the separated parents in both Mexico and Central America. “While we have already located many deported parents, there are hundreds more who we are still trying to reach,” the group said in a statement. “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.”
In a Facebook post, the group shared, “We are still searching for hundreds of parents who were separated from their children and deported without them! Our heroic Defender Network continues to conduct on-the-ground searches in Central America and Mexico to find and help these parents. You can help by donating to support our efforts reuniting families.”
Back in May of 2018, five U.S. attorneys gathered along the border with Mexico. Three of those attorneys had been appointed by Donald Trump. All five attorneys were against an order to prosecute all undocumented immigrants even if that meant separating them from their children. The attorneys spoke with top officials within the Justice Department and expressed their concerns for the children’s welfare reports the New York Times.
If we go back to May 2018 for a moment, Jeff Sessions, who was Trump’s attorney general at the time, made it more than clear exactly what Trump wanted during a conference call later that day a two-year inquiry by the Justice Department’s inspector general into Trump’s “zero-tolerance” family separation policy.
“We need to take away children,” Sessions told the attorneys, according to notes taken by one of the participants in the phone call. “If care about kids, don’t bring them in. Won’t give amnesty to people with kids.”
In a second call made about a week later by Rod J. Rosenstein, who was then the deputy attorney general, he told the five prosecutors that it did not matter how young the children were. He added that government lawyers should not have refused to prosecute two cases because the children involved were infants.
“Those two cases should not have been declined,” John Bash, the departing U.S. attorney in western Texas, wrote to his staff immediately after the call. Mr. Bash had declined the cases, but Mr. Rosenstein “instructed that, per the A.G.’s policy, we should NOT be categorically declining immigration prosecutions of adults in family units because of the age of a child.”
Top officials within the Justice Departments were “a driving force” behind the policy that spurred the separation of thousands of families.
The draft report, citing more than 45 interviews conducted with key officials, emails, and other documents. There are now over 500 children who can’t find their parents.