Lawyers say they can't track down parents of 545 migrant kids separated at U.S. border

A migrant child and her father.
(Image credit: Loren Elliott/AFP via Getty Images)

Lawyers enlisted to identify migrant families separated at the U.S. southern border during the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy said in a court filing on Tuesday they have not yet tracked down the parents of 545 children, and about two-thirds of those parents have been deported to Central America without their kids, NBC News reports.

The policy of separating migrant children from their parents went into effect in 2018, but under a pilot program that launched in 2017, more than 1,000 families were separated. A federal judge in California set up a "steering committee" of advocacy groups and law firms and told them to find the parents separated from their children in 2017. They have been able to contact the parents of more than 550 children, NBC News reports, and believe 25 more parents may be able to come back to the United States for reunification.

Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project, told NBC News that some parents have been contacted but are worried for their child's safety in their home countries, and want them to remain in the United States. "People ask when we will find all of these families and, sadly, I can't give an answer," Gelernt said. "I just don't know. But we will not stop looking until we have found every one of the families, no matter how long it takes. The tragic reality is that hundreds of parents were deported to Central America without their children, who remain here with foster families or distant relatives."

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The group Justice in Motion is on the ground in Mexico and Central America, trying to reach the affected families. "It's an arduous and time-consuming process on a good day," the organization said in a statement. "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."

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Catherine Garcia

Catherine Garcia is night editor for Her writing and reporting has appeared in Entertainment Weekly and, The New York Times, The Book of Jezebel, and other publications. A Southern California native, Catherine is a graduate of the University of Redlands and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.