Months before the Trump administration rolled out its “zero-tolerance” policy on the U.S.-Mexico border, hundreds of migrant children were already being separated from their families with little fanfare. As those children were shuttled around the country in late 2017, their parents were swiftly detained or deported, with few records taken by the government about where they went or how to contact them.
It was only in 2019, after a federal judge ordered officials to hand their names over to immigration lawyers, that the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups tried in earnest to begin reuniting them.
On Tuesday, those lawyers submitted a court filing with a grim update: They have not yet been able to reach the parents of 545 separated children. About two-thirds of those parents are believed to be somewhere in Central America — without their children.
“Unfortunately, there’s an enormous amount of work yet to be done to find these families — work that will be difficult, but we are committed to doing,” Lee Gelernt, an ACLU attorney, said in an interview with The Washington Post. “Not only are we still looking for hundreds of families, but we would have never even known about these families if the Trump administration had its way.”
Three years after the families were separated, it is perhaps the most tangible legacy of one of President Trump’s most widely condemned policies: hundreds of migrant children scattered across the United States, living in foster care or with relatives, during a global pandemic that has all but halted efforts to locate their parents.
Department of Homeland Security officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Post late on Tuesday about the court filing, which was first reported by NBC News.
Under Trump’s official zero-tolerance policy, more than 2,800 families were separated in 2018. When public uproar forced the Trump administration to reverse the policy, many of those families — about 5 in 6 — were still in the United States, including in detention.
By Teo Armus for THE WASHINGTON POST
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