Earlier this week, lawyers for the Trump administration said it could take up to two years to identify migrant children who were taken from their parents under the administration’s separation policy, prompting a new round of attacks from immigrant rights and civil rights groups.
A federal judge in California ordered the Trump administration to reunite all families that were separated under the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, which saw children being taken from their parents and placed into detention centers after crossing the U.S. border. As NBC News reported, the Trump administration has responded to the order by saying it could take between one and two years to bring all families back together.
The zero-tolerance policy drew worldwide outrage, and Trump ultimately walked back the policy last year. But thousands of migrant children remained separated from their parents, and reports indicated that the administration failed to keep track of many of them after they were separated, leading to backlogs and roadblocks as they tried to identify children and families for reunion.
The administration has also been criticized for failing to reveal the breadth of the policy. As PBS News reported, the U.S. Health and Human Service Department originally said that 2,700 children were in government care at the time the federal judge ordered them to be reunited with families, but the agency’s internal watchdog later reported that the actual number of separated children was several thousand higher. Due to poor record keeping, the true number of children taken was not known, the report noted.
The Trump administration already pushed back against orders to reunite children with their families, saying it was onerous, as many had already been released from government custody to live with sponsor families. Some of the parents were also deported while their children remained in government custody, leading to difficulties in trying to locate them again.
As NBC News noted, the pushback from the Trump administration has led to criticism from many civil rights groups. The administration is being sued by the ACLU for the policy, and this week, the civil rights organization spoke out against claims that it could take up to two years to fully reunite migrant families.
“We strongly oppose any plan that would give the government up to two years to find these children. The government’s proposed plan reflects the administration’s continuing refusal to treat these separations with the urgency they deserve,” said Lee Gelernt, lead attorney for the ACLU in the case against the Trump administration.