Judge: Trump administration has six months to identify separated children

A federal judge ruled Thursday that The Trump administration has six months to identify potentially thousands of children officials separated from their families at the country’s southern border.

The government initially said it could take up to two years to identify as many as 47,000 children who were separated from their parents and taken into custody between July 1, 2017 and June 26, 2018.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which is suing the administration over the separations, objected to the extended timeframe. 

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The ruling gives administration until Oct. 25, although the order from Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego noted the timeline may be modified for a “showing of good cause.”

“This order shows that the court continues to recognize the gravity of this situation,” said ACLU’s Lee Gelernt, lead attorney in the family separation lawsuit.

HHS has worked since June 2018 to reunite the more than 2,700 children  separated under the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, which has largely been finished.

Then in January, an internal government watchdog reported that thousands more children may have been separated during an influx that began in 2017, even before the “zero tolerance” policy was enacted.

The report confirmed that family separations at the border increased months before then-Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsForget the spin: Five unrefuted Mueller Report revelations Sessions: It’s time to accept the results of the Mueller report and move on Trump poised to roll back transgender health protections MORE wrote the zero tolerance memo, and it shed new light on the administration’s efforts to use separations to deter migrants from unlawfully crossing the southern border.

Under zero tolerance, children brought across the border illegally were separated from their parents, deemed “unaccompanied,” and detained by HHS in separate facilities sometimes hundreds of miles from their parents.

The department’s inspector general said the precise number of separated children was unknown, and HHS officials initially argued it would be too difficult to identify all of them.

But Sabraw ordered the administration to submit a plan for reunification. HHS officials have since developed a plan to flag certain characteristics in children that would make them likely to be still separated.

Lawyers for the Department of Justice initially said their plan would need up to two years to implement, including three months just to create a statistical model to review the files of prospective children.

The ACLU objected, saying the plan  “shows a callous disregard for these  families and should be rejected.”

The group argued that the “entire review of every file can be done within three months.”

The six-month deadline is intended to be a compromise.

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