A White House task force created by President Biden has uncovered 5,600 previously unknown files from 2017 that may help the U.S. government to identify — and reunite — migrant parents and children separated by the Trump administration.
According to Jacob Soboroff and Julia Ainsley of NBC News, a senior Department of Homeland Security official was quoted saying, “We found the list we had when we came in was not comprehensive and included large timeframes that had not been reviewed.”
Officials hope the new files may help identify “additional families” affected but not accounted for by Trump’s policy. Soboroff and Ainsley reported that “the new files are from the Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement between Jan. 20., 2017, and July 2017, a time period not included in the American Civil Liberties Union’s lawsuit against the Trump administration over family separations.”
In an interview with NBC, Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project and lead attorney in the ACLU’s lawsuit against the U.S., said, “We told the court we would need to go back to the government if we suspected that there may have been families separated as far back as the first six months of the Trump administration.”
“We now believe there may have been separations in the first six months of the Trump administration, and we applaud the task force for agreeing to review cases during this time period,” Gelernt said. “Whether the task force finds one or many additional separations, it is essential that we find every last child cruelly taken from their parents by our government.”
Officials have estimated that more than 2,800 families were separated during the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy in mid-2018. More than 1,000 additional families may have also been separated before the policy’s official implementation.
“As a candidate, Biden called the Trump administration’s family separations ‘criminal,’ and, as president-elect, promised a ‘thorough investigation’ of potential criminality of the policy and those responsible for it,” said Soboroff and Ainsley.
Although there is no official timeline for the reunification of families that remain separated, the Biden administration has begun settlement negotiations with the ACLU over its lawsuit against the federal government. According to NBC, an initial report of the investigation using the newly unearthed files will be released on June 2.