LOS ANGELES — President Joe Biden’s family separation task force has identified 5,600 "yet-to-be-reviewed" files from the first half of 2017 that may hold evidence of additional family separations during the Trump administration, a senior Department of Homeland Security official said Wednesday.
"We found the list we had when we came in was not comprehensive and included large timeframes that had not been reviewed," said the official, who was briefing reporters on the progress of the task force.
The official said the new files may reveal "a few additional families" who have not yet been identified.
The new files are from the Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement between Jan. 20., 2017, and July 2017, a time period not included in the American Civil Liberties Union's lawsuit against the Trump administration over family separations.
"We told the court we would need to go back to the government if we suspected that there may have been families separated as far back the first six months of the Trump administration," said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project and lead attorney in the ACLU’s lawsuit. "We now believe there may have been separations in the first six months of the Trump administration and we applaud the task force for agreeing to review cases during this time period. Whether the task force finds one or many additional separations, it is essential that we find every last child cruelly taken from their parents by our government."
Approximately 2,800 families were separated during the Trump administration’s "zero tolerance" policy in mid-2018, and lawyers have said previously that more than 1,000 others had been separated prior to the policy’s official implementation.
As a candidate, Biden called the Trump administration’s family separations "criminal," and as president-elect promised a "thorough investigation" of potential criminality of the policy and those responsible for it. The senior DHS official, however, said "accountability" fell under the jurisdiction of the Justice Department, and "is not part of what the task force was tasked to do."
The official provided no timeline for reunification of still-separated families, and said that the Biden administration had entered into settlement negotiations with the ACLU in their lawsuit against the federal government over separations, but said that an initial report on the progress of the task force was due on June 2.
Jacob Soboroff reported from Los Angeles, and Julia Ainsley from Washington.