The Trump administration separated 1,556 more immigrant children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border than previously disclosed to the public, the American Civil Liberties Union said.
Most of the children are very young, 12 years old and under, according to The Washington Post, including more than 200 considered “tender age” because they are younger than 5.
The Justice Department only announced the true number — including 2,700 children already known to have been separated — a few hours before a deadline set by a federal court to identify all taken children. U.S. District Judge Dana M. Sabraw told the Trump administration in April they had six months to give all the names of the taken children to the ACLU so the organization can help reunite them with their families.
The 2,700 children that were known about were released from shelters between July 1, 2017, and June 2018. But it’s not clear where the 1,556 children whose names were released to the ACLU on Thursday are being held or where their parents are.
Reuniting children with parents will be a long process.
“These are the families we’re going to have to search for all over the world,” ACLU lawyer Lee Gelernt told the Post on Thursday. “We’re still in the middle of trying to find them.”
Lawyers working for the Trump administration have claimed that most of the children separated have been reunited with a parent or released to a guardian. At the same time, they claimed that it could take around two years to locate all of them because initial efforts to keep track of separated children were so unorganized, the Post reported.
On Thursday, a Department of Health and Human Services official said that the administration would use tools, including electronic databases and statistical modeling, to try to find all of the immigrant children, according to the Post.
“What we are striving for ultimately is an accurate accounting of substantially all the children who meet these criteria as quickly as is possible,” Jonathan White, a commander for the U.S. Public Health Service who led HHS’s effort to return children to their parents, testified in court Thursday. “At the end of the day, it is our goal to produce an accurate accounting.”