By Nélida Tello
In a court filing on Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the US Justice Department documented that the parents of 545 migrant children, separated at the El Paso, Tx border by a 2017 pilot ‘family separation’ program, couldn’t be located. Government estimates conclude that about two-thirds of the parents have been deported to Central America, complicating reunification. Additionally, an ACLU lawyer reported that of the 545 children, 360 were unaccounted for.
More than 1,000 families were separated under the 2017 pilot program, engineered by former US Attorney General Jeff Sessions. It was the prototype for the zero tolerance policy implemented by the Trump administration in May 2018, which separated almost 2,800 families across the US Mexico border.
After public outcry and an ACLU lawsuit, an executive order ending family separation passed in June 2018. Despite the executive order halting separations, they continued until 2019. The executive order did not include the reunification of families separated under the pilot program, which was implemented with no plan to track families or to reunite them. By the time a 2019 California court ruling ordered the reunification of these families, many parents had already been deported, and only 485 parents could be reached.
The Obama Administration detained immigrant families at the border as well, and despite keeping them together, conditions in the jail-like detention centers did not differ much from Trump’s. Obama’s policy towards detained migrant families was deportation as soon as possible, and his crack down on immigration, deporting more immigrants than Trump during in his first term, set the precedent for Trump’s family separation policies.
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