It may take federal officials two years to identify what could be thousands of immigrant children who were separated from their families at the southern United States border, the government said in court documents filed on Friday.
A federal judge had asked for a plan to identify these children and their families after a report from government inspectors in January revealed that the Trump administration most likely separated thousands more children from their parents than was previously believed.
These families were separated before the administration unveiled its “zero-tolerance” immigration policy in the spring of 2018, when nearly all adults entering the country illegally were prosecuted and any children accompanying them were put into shelters or foster care.
To identify these families, the government said it would apply a statistical analysis to about 47,000 children who were referred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement and subsequently discharged, according to the court filing. From there, the government said it would manually review the case records of the children who appeared to have the highest probability of being part of the separated families.
Officials estimated that the process would take at least one year and potentially two. In explaining the reason for such an arduous process, the government said United States Customs and Border Protection did not collect specific data on migrant family separations before April 2018.
Lawyers representing the Office of Refugee Resettlement did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Saturday.
In a court filing for the government, Jonathan White, a commander with the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, wrote that identifying this group of children presented new challenges because they were already discharged from the Office of Refugee Resettlement, meaning the government “lacks access” to them.
The statistical analysis was required because manually reviewing the cases of nearly 50,000 children would “overwhelm” the office’s resources, he wrote.
By Julia Jacobs for THE NEW YORK TIMES
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