San Diego – A court-appointed commission continues to fail to locate the parents of 628 minors who were separated at the Mexican border when President Donald Trump’s administration began, according to a court text filed Wednesday in court, also the government reportedly provided additional phone numbers last week to assist in the search.
The parents of 333 minors are believed to be in the United States. The parents of the remaining 295 would be outside the United States.
That does not necessarily mean that parents and children remain separated, but rather that the commission has not been able to locate the parents. The panel has located other relatives of 168 of the 628 minors whose parents have not yet been found.
The joint document by the Department of Justice attorneys and the families provides the latest insight into efforts to reunite families affected by the “zero tolerance” policy for illegal border crossings, resulting in thousands of separations when the parents were criminally prosecuted.
On November 25, the government provided the search commission with phone numbers and other information from a database of the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, which manages immigration courts, according to the document.
Lee Gelernt, an attorney representing parents for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said he has lobbied the government for additional information last year.
“We barely received this new information one day before Thanksgiving and solely due to global outrage that these parents could not be located,” he said in an interview.
The search commission said it is too early to know how helpful the additional phone numbers will be in locating the missing parents.
More than 2,700 minors were separated from their parents in June 2018, when federal judge Dana Sabraw, in San Diego, ordered that the practice implemented with the “zero tolerance” policies be ended. He ordered that parents and children be reunited no later than 30 days.
The 628 minors whose parents remain unaccounted for were separated before the judge issued the order, with cases dating back to July 1, 2017, and all of them were released from federal custody prior to the June 2018 order.
It is difficult to find minors from that period because the government had inadequate tracking systems. They include hundreds who were separated during a trial of the measure in El Paso, Texas, conducted between July and November 2017 and which was not released at the time.
President-elect Joe Biden raised the issue during the final weeks of his campaign, vowing to create a task force to help locate parents.
The ACLU wants Biden to allow separated families to return to the United States and be granted “a certain kind of legal status,” Gelernt said.
“We think it’s fair enough considering what they put them through,” Gelernt said. “We will find the families, but we cannot give the families the right to return to the United States or give them legal status. The government is the only one that can do that.
Volunteers have searched for parents by phone and door-to-door in Central America, a task that was interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. The commission established free phones in the United States, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, and sent approximately 1,600 letters to families where the parents could be.