Trump administration identifies at least 1,700 additional children it may have separated

The children were separated from their parents before the government's "zero tolerance" policy went into effect in May 2018.
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Migrant children line up outside a tent at the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children on Good Friday, Friday, April 19, 2019, in Homestead, Fla.Wilfredo Lee / AP file

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By Jacob Soboroff and Julia Ainsley

The Trump administration has identified at least 1,712 migrant children it may have separated from their parents in addition to those separated under the “zero tolerance” policy, according to court transcripts of a Friday hearing.

U.S. District Court Judge Dana Sabraw ordered the Trump administration to identify children separated before the zero tolerance policy went into effect in May 2018, resulting in the separation of over 2,800 children.

Sabraw previously ordered those migrant families to be reunited, but the additional children were identified more recently when the Inspector General for Health and Human Services estimated “thousands more” may have been separated before the policy was officially underway.

Other potentially separated migrant children could still be identified. The government has reviewed the files of 4,108 children out of 50,000 so far.

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Sabraw gave the Trump administration six months to complete the task of combing through nearly 50,000 records to locate additional separated children.

The effort to identify additional separated children is an inter-agency process, with HHS first flagging and then sending records of children it suspects were separated to the Department of Homeland Security for further review.

The list of 1,712 children was sent to Customs and Border Protection for the “next phase of review,” said Commander Jonathan White, the Trump administration official who spearheaded the reunification of children separated during zero tolerance, as well as the current effort.

White said the identification process started with the children most likely to have been separated, but their findings are not conclusive.

“I do anticipate that because we were very inclusive we will discover that many of those are false positives after CBP looks at them,” he said.

White had said the process to identify the additional separated children could take years, but during the status hearing Friday said “we have exceeded my projections on how fast” his team was able to review the thousands of files.

Lee Gelernt, the lead ACLU lawyer in the separations case, said in a statement that “the government has indicated that it has already found preliminary indications of 1700 more separated families, on top of the more than 3000 separated families already reported.

"If the final number turns out to anywhere near 1700, that’s a lot of additional hardship and a lot of work for us to do locating these families.”