SAN DIEGO — The intensive effort to locate the parents of 628 children who remain apart from their parents after being separated at the border under Trump administration policies has been bolstered by new leads, attorneys reported this week.
A group of volunteers dedicated to the search have recently gained access to two additional databases — including one belonging to the federal government — that hold potentially new contact information for parents who up to this point have been unreachable.
While the development is promising, it is also drawing ire from attorneys who question why the government didn't hand over its information sooner, despite repeated requests for help with leads.
"The fact they've been sitting on these phone numbers and addresses to us seems really outrageous," American Civil Liberties Union attorney Lee Gelernt said in a hearing in San Diego federal court Friday.
This is the second massive search for parents who were separated from their children under the current presidential administration, and that fact that hundreds remain missing continues to attract national attention, even surfacing as a question in the second presidential debate.
The first search occurred the summer of 2018 following a court order as part of litigation filed by the ACLU. Some 2,000 families — most of whom were still in U.S. detention centers or shelters at the time — were reunited under that effort.
It was only after that effort was winding down that attorneys were notified of another group of families who had been separated as early as 2017, as part of a pilot program in Texas.
The government, under a court order to also account for those separations, found 1,134 children, as well as an additional 64 that should have been part of the first count.
But the search for that second set of parents has proven to be more complicated. The children are no longer in government care and have been placed with sponsors — often extended family — throughout the U.S. to proceed with their own immigration cases. The parents are also out of immigration detention.
The search has been stymied by several other factors over the past year, including mistrust in the government, poor record-keeping when the parents and children were in custody, deportations, unstable living conditions, the global pandemic and now hurricanes that have ravaged parts of Central America.