Lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) learned that 545 children—who had been forcibly taken from their parents by the White House’s family separation practice—are still lost, the organization announced on Twitter on October 20.
BREAKING: Through our litigation, we just reported to the court that the parents of 545 kids—forcibly separated by the Trump administration’s cruel family separation practice—still cannot be found.— ACLU (@ACLU) October 21, 2020
This is why we fight. https://t.co/OH34S8Play
The legal organization was appointed by a federal judge to identify the affected families. It told NBC News that it has been unable to find the parents of the more than 500 missing children and that two-thirds of parents had been returned to Central America without their kids. This has been going on since 2017, when the Trump Administration introduced what its “pilot program” in El Paso, Texas, which officially became “zero tolerance” in April 2018. In October 2018, the Texas Tribune reported that 1,800 children had parents who had been deported. In November 2019, the Tribune reported that “Texas’ 35 state-licensed shelters had permission to accommodate up to 5,876 children, according to the health commission. With 1,355 kids living in them, they’re at 23 percent of capacity.”
“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. “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.”
This family crisis—taking children from their parents—appeared to have always been the administration’s end game. Former United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions and deputy attorney general Rod J. Rosenstein both reportedly pushed to take children from migrant parents, regardless of the child’s age. “We need to take away children,” Sessions told prosecutors in May 2018, who then reportedly shared their meeting notes with the New York Times. “If care [sic] about kids, don’t bring them in,” another prosecutor shared from Sessions’ remarks. “Won’t give amnesty to people with kids.”
Two years later, radio stations in Mexico and Central America are said to be running campaigns to try and find the parents of missing children. Of the 545 children, about 60 were under age 5 when separated and 362 cannot be reunited with their parents because of incorrect sponsor contact information, the Times reported. On October 21, a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security tweeted that “this narrative has been dispelled” and that not a single family, “out of the parents of 485 children” ACLU lawyers have been able to reach, wanted to reunite in their home country.
This narrative has been dispelled. In the current litigation, for example, out of the parents of 485 children whom Plaintiffs’ counsel has been able to contact, they’ve yet to identify a single family that wants their child reunited with them in their country of origin. https://t.co/mZ9DYWWXwP— Chase Jennings (@SpoxDHS) October 21, 2020
Nan Schivone, legal director of Justice in Motion, told the Times “the Trump administration had no plans to keep track of the families or ever reunite them,” which is why organizations like hers and the ACLU are scrambling. Gelernt said that the right thing to do is simple. “The humane and simple solution is for the Trump administration to allow the parents to return to the U.S. to reunite with their children but the administration is not allowing that.”