Politics

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Parents Of Over 600 Immigrant Children Separated At The Border Can't Be Found

Lawyers are trying to reunite more families separated by the Trump administration.

The number of separated migrant children whose parents can’t be found has grown, according to lawyers tasked with reuniting families separated under President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy. In an email obtained by NBC News, lawyers told a federal judge the government’s failure to provide any known phone numbers or contact information had driven the number of migrant children for whom they cannot locate parents for up by more than a hundred. In all, lawyers said the parents of 666 migrant children remain missing.

In a court-ordered joint status report filed by the U.S. Department of Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in mid-October, lawyers said they'd been unable to locate the parents of 545 children who'd been separated from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border. But lawyers have now said the number of children with parents that cannot be found has since grown to 666. According to NBC News, lead attorney Steven Herzog has said the number of children has increased to include children with parents “for whom the government did not provide any phone number.”

“We would appreciate the government providing any available updated contact information, or other information that may be helpful in establishing contact for all 666 of these parents,” NBC News reported Herzog said in an email to attorneys from the Department of Justice.

A tweet from NBC News journalist David Gura reveals additional information about why the number of separated migrant children with parents who cannot be located has grown.

In October, lawyers revealed they’d successfully located the parents of 485 migrant children in a joint status report filed in court shared by CNN. At the time, the parents of an additional 545 migrant children remained unlocated, with two-thirds of them believed to have already been deported back to their country of origin. Efforts to locate parents in their countries of origin were reported by NBC News to have been hindered by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Justice in Motion, a nonprofit network spearheading the search for missing migrant parents, told NBC News last month that the process was “arduous and time-consuming” on a good day. “During the pandemic, our team of human rights defenders is taking special measures to protect their own security and safety, as well as that of the parents and their communities,” the nonprofit said in a statement shared first with NBC News and later over Twitter.

The children lawyers are now working to reunite with their parents were initially separated from their families under a pilot program run in El Paso, Texas, in 2017, roughly one year before the Trump administration formally began separating migrant families under a “zero-tolerance” immigration policy. A federal judge ordered the Trump administration to reunite families separated as a result of the pilot program in March 2019, Politico reported.

But as attempts to locate parents continue — and more than a hundred children are added to the list — many of the separated children have now been away from their family for going on three years. What’s more, sources familiar with the list of children have told NBC News that nearly 20% of the kids were under the age of 5 when they were first separated from their families, meaning their parents could have lost valuable years of their children’s childhood.