Court filing: Parents of 545 migrant children separated in 2017 can’t be found

migrant families and children
A group of migrant families in an overcrowded space known as “hielera” (or icebox) cover themselves with aluminium foil sheets on June 2019 in Weslaco, Texas facility, as documented in a Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General report from July 2, 2019. Screenshot.

The parents of 545 migrant children who were separated in 2017 by the U.S. government have yet to be found and most were deported to Central America, NBC News reported

Lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union and other law firms were tasked by a federal judge with finding family members separated during a 2017 family separation “pilot” program in El Paso, Texas. That program was later expanded in summer 2018 under the more well-known family separation practice where migrant adults were criminally charged at the border and had their children taken into government custody. 

The Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security found in 2019 that the federal agency lacked the proper technology needed to successfully account for separated migrant families. 

During the height of the zero tolerance policy, some parts of Arizona’s border with Mexico became one of the busiest sectors for family border crossings. Separated minors also ended up in privately-run shelters for migrant children and teens in Arizona. 

Many of the more than 1,000 parents separated from their children under the 2017 pilot program had already been deported before a federal judge ordered the families reunited in June 2018, according to NBC News.

The Washington Post reported that Justice Department lawyers said the 545 separated children were appropriately released to parents or legal guardians, and that the government has “taken every step” to facilitate reunification. 

The ACLU estimates 5,400 migrant children have been separated from their families since President Donald Trump took office, and more than half of those separations occurred in May and June 2018, the Post reported.

In Thursday’s final presidential debate, Democratic nominee Joe Biden sharply criticized Trump for his policies that permanently tore immigrant families apart.

“Their kids were ripped from their arms and separated,” Biden said. “And now they cannot find over 500 sets of those parents and those kids are alone. It’s criminal.”

Laura Gómez
Reporter Laura Gómez Rodriguez covers state politics and immigration for the Arizona Mirror. She worked for The Arizona Republic and La Voz Arizona for four years, covering city government, economic development, immigration, politics and trade. In 2017, Laura traveled the length of the U.S.-Mexico border for “The Wall,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning project produced by The Arizona Republic and USA Today Network. She was named Best Investigative Reporter by Phoenix Magazine in its 2018 newspaper category and has been honored by the Arizona Press Club for Spanish-language news and feature reporting. She is a native of Bogotá, Colombia and lived in Puerto Rico and Boston before moving to Phoenix in 2014. Catch her researching travel deals, feasting on mariscos or playing soccer.