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The Parents of 545 Children Separated at the Border Are Missing

The Trump administration began separating families in 2017, and now lawyers appointed to find migrant families who were separated at the border say they can’t find the parents of 545 children, according to a filing from the American Civil Liberties Union first reported by NBC News. They also say that about two-thirds of their parents were deported to Central America. The ACLU and other pro-bono law firms were tasked with finding the members of families separated during Trump’s zero-tolerance policy.

More than 1,000 parents were separated from their children under the pilot program between July 1, 2017, and June 26, 2018. Children from that period are difficult to find because the government had inadequate tracking systems. Volunteers have searched for the children and their parents in Guatemala and Honduras by going door-to-door. The steering committee has also promoted toll-free phone numbers in Spanish to contact the families.

“People ask when we will find all of these families, and sadly, I can’t give an answer. I just don’t know,” Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, said. “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 and other organizations part of a court-appointed “steering committee” learned that more than 1,000 families were separated in 2017 based on the Department of Homeland Security data. The committee has contacted the parents of more than 550 children and believes about 25 of them may have a chance to come back to the U.S. for reunification, NBC News reports. Gelernt says about 360 of the children still have not been located,  NPR reports.

Trump’s zero-tolerance policy meant parents were sent to federal prison before going to court on charges of illegally entering the U.S. The government separated the children and listed them as unaccompanied minors, and they were then transferred to the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Gelernt shared with Buzzfeed News that many of the children who are living with sponsors (either a foster family or relatives) were babies when they were separated three years ago and “have now spent more than half their lives separated from their parents.”

The news sparked an outcry and renewed criticism for how the Trump administration separated families at the border. While the coronavirus slowed the search, the volunteers continue to do on-the-ground searches following safety protocols.