NEW YORK - The parents of 545 migrant children separated at the border by the Trump administration still can't be found.
"The Trump administration is not helping us find these families," said Lee Gelernt, the deputy director of the ACLU's National Immigrant Rights Project and the lead attorney in the case challenging the Trump administration family separation practice.
Gelernt said that the families separated under the president's zero-tolerance policy in 2018 have been reunited under court orders but parents who were separated in 2017 cannot be found.
"We only learned about them from an HHS watchdog report, the government then refused to give us the actual names," Gelernt said. "We had to go back to court to get the names. It took six months to get all the names because the government candidly admitted that they never tracked the families."
Most of those parents have been deported back to their countries of origin.
"We and our partners have had to go on the ground to Central America looking for these families. We made some progress," Gelernt said, but admitted it has been dangerous and challenging due to the pandemic.
The Department of Homeland Security sent a statement to FOX 5 NY.
"DHS has taken every step to facilitate the reunification of these families where the parents wanted such reunification to occur," DHS Spokesperson Chase Jennings said in the statement. He said the "narrative" by the ACLU has been dispelled on numerous occasions.
"The simple fact is this: after contact has been made with the parents to reunite them with their children, many parents have refused," Jennings said. "In the current litigation, for example, out of the parents of 485 children whom Plaintiffs' counsel has been able to contact, they have yet to identify a single family that wants their child reunited with them in their country of origin."
A spokesperson for HHS responded to our email for comment.
"Like all unaccompanied alien children (UAC) referred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) after illegally crossing into our country, the job of ORR, at HHS' Administration for Children and Families, is to provide temporary shelter followed by discharging the UAC to a sponsor as quickly and safely as possible," HHS said in a statement. "All of the 545 minors referenced were appropriately discharged from ORR's unaccompanied alien children program prior to June 23, 2018. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has already provided relevant information requested by the court."
The ACLU said it isn't just the parents they can't find; they also haven't been able to contact more than 360 children. Gelernt said they will not stop looking until every family is reunited.
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