“The Trump administration had no plans to keep track of the families or ever reunite them and so that’s why we’re in the situation we’re in now, to try to account for each family,” said Nan Schivone, legal director of the organization Justice in Motion, which is leading on-the-ground search efforts for separated families.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which is leading the court challenge to the family separation policy, said it had also been unable to find 362 of the children, many of whom are likely living in the United States, whose parents were deemed unreachable.
“The fact that they kept the names from the court, from us, from the public, was astounding,” said Lee Gelernt, the lead attorney in the A.C.L.U.’s case over family separations. “We could have been searching for them this whole time.”
The latest findings were first reported by NBC News.
In some cases, members of the steering committee have had only names and countries of origin to go on in trying to locate separated parents. Even after conducting public record searches to identify the cities where the families were from, they faced additional hurdles. Many of the families had fled their homes because they were escaping violence or extortion, and intentionally withheld information from friends and neighbors about where they were going.
Researchers are presuming that about two-thirds of the parents now being sought are back in their home countries.
As part of the legal case over family separations in the Federal District Court in San Diego, overseen by Judge Dana Sabraw, the search efforts will continue and the government will be required to provide information about any additional families that are separated at the border.
As of October 2019, the government had provided contact information for more than 1,100 additional parents who had been separated from their children, but argued that it would not disclose information about some 400 of the parents because those individuals had criminal records that prevented the United States government from reuniting them with their children under Homeland Security Department policies.
Of the more than 1,100, the steering committee has been able to locate the parents of 485 additional separated children. The rest have not been found.