Trump Administration Wants Six Months or Longer to Find Thousands More Missing Migrant Children

By the time U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw issued an order on June 26, 2018 to halt family separations at the U.S.-Mexico border, more than 2,700 children had already been separated from their parents.

While thousands have been reunited with their parents, on Thursday Sabraw had to order the federal government to identify potentially thousands of children who were separated from their families at the border early in President Donald Trump’s presidency.

Sabraw gave the government six months but officials from the administration said while their goal was six months, they didn’t want to be held accountable to any set deadline, according to the Associated Press. Officials said the process to reunite with their parents the thousands of migrant children scattered throughout the states could take two years. 

Sabraw backed down a little and said he would consider an extension past the deadline of October 25, 2019, but that he still wanted a set date to keep the government accountable. Sabraw initially ordered the government to reunite the children with their parents in 30 days, but that has proved impossible.

The exact number of how many children are still in the U.S. in government custody isn’t known, according to the U.S. Health and Human Services Department’s inspector general. In January, the department also revealed that thousands more children “may” have been taken from their parents since the summer of 2017.

Over the next six or more months, the administration will have to look through roughly 47,000 cases of unaccompanied children in the government’s custody just between July 1, 2017 and June 25, 2018, according to the Associated Press.

The federal government’s plan to reunify the children with their parents is to develop a statistical model over the next 12 weeks that looks for children under five years of age, children traveling without a sibling and children who went through El Paso, Texas, where the administration ran a trial program that involved separating nearly 300 family members from July to November 2017.

A tracking system wasn’t implemented until April 2018, so the administration will also use that to identify children still in U.S. custody who were taken after that date, according to the Associated Press.

But it’s not going to be easy – most children taken from their parents are given to relatives, but not their parents. According to the Associated Press, 49 percent of children released in the 2017 fiscal year went to a parent, 41 percent went to close relatives like an aunt or uncle and 10 percent to distant relatives, family friends and “others.”

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