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Lawyers Can’t Find Parents Of More Than 500 Immigrant Children Separated By Trump Administration

Attorneys hired to identify immigrant families separated from the Trump administration say they were unable to track down the parents of 545 children, which has been hampered by the coronavirus pandemic.

“People keep asking me when we’re all going to find families, and unfortunately I don’t know,” Lee Gelernt, the case’s lead attorney and assistant director of the ACLU’s immigrant rights project, told BuzzFeed News. “The numbers tell a story, but every single child has their own story with their own human dimension, so we can’t stop looking until we’ve found every family.”

In 2018, the Trump administration systematically separated thousands of children from their parents under a so-called “zero tolerance policy” that saw parents taken to federal prison before being tried for unauthorized entry into the United States. Since children cannot be sent to federal prison with their parents, the government separated them, listed them as unaccompanied minors, and placed them in the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).

Wednesday’s report comes from a February 2018 ACLU lawsuit filed on behalf of a Congolese asylum seeker identified as Ms. L who was separated from her 7-year-old daughter by U.S. immigration authorities. The mother and daughter were reunited, but the case has been expanded into a class action lawsuit that covers thousands of immigrant families separated by the U.S. government.

After it became known last year that the Trump administration had separated families as part of a pilot program in the summer of 2017, the class was expanded to include a further 1,030 children, who were separated from their parents on July 1, 2017.

As of Tuesday, a committee of law firms and nonprofits that the ACLU set up to track down the separated families has been trying to reach the parents of all extended class members and successfully reach those of 485 children, the report said.

According to the ACLU, around two thirds of the parents who the committee was unable to reach have already been deported to their home countries.

“The contact information the government gave us was mostly out of date, so we searched for the local families in Central America … but the local search was stopped because of COVID,” said Gelernt.

Describing the situation as “extremely sad,” he added that some of the children living with godparents in the US, who range from close relative to foster family, were just babies when they were separated three years ago and “now have “spent more than half their lives apart from their parents. “

The report said that while local efforts have been halted due to the pandemic, efforts will be resumed.

“The Steering Committee intends to continue the physical searches on site as long as it is safe to do so and will continue to keep the Court informed of its progress, particularly if these searches have to be restricted or re-suspended due to travel restrictions or health risks,” it said in the report.

Adolfo Flores contributed to the reporting.

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