A total of 506 children who were separated from their parent or guardian at the US-Mexico border are still in US custody as lawyers have been unsuccessful in reuniting them with their families, a Wednesday court filing has revealed.
Marking the first such legal filing under the Biden administration, lawyers noted that they were able to make contact with the parents of approximately 105 children since their previous update.
At present, of the 506 children, the parents of 322 children were deported back to their country of origin whereas the parents of another 168 kids are believed to still be within the US. As for the remaining 16 kids, officials have not been able to pinpoint any contact information for their parents, sponsor or a legal representative of the parent.
The latest filing follows an executive order signed by Biden earlier this month, which established a new task force intended to identify and eventually reunite families that have been separated under the Trump-era policy. The effort is headed by the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.
The Wednesday court filing touched on the efforts of the newly-launched task force, with lawyers stating that “defendants believe that the work of the task force will resolve many - if not all - outstanding issues in this litigation, and defendants look forward to working with plaintiffs with that goal in mind.”
It further noted that ongoing talks between officials will help to “develop more comprehensive plans regarding how it will move forward” in locating the parents of children.
Reports suggest that along with the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, the secretary of state, the US attorney general and first lady Jill Biden will take part in the task force’s ongoing efforts.
The Trump-era “zero tolerance” policy was announced in May 2018 by then-US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who promised to prosecute migrants with illegal entry into the US immediately upon their first arrest, separating them from their children.
“If you’re smuggling a child, then we’re going to prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you. If you don’t want your child separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally,” Sessions had said at the time.
However, it was later determined by the Houston Chronicle that the US Customs and Border Protection had been splitting families months before Sessions’ May speech. At its height, thousands of migrant children were kept in detention centers before court orders required officials to end the practice.
Although the “zero tolerance” practice had already ended, the Justice Department opted to officially rescind the Trump administration policy late last month.