The federal government has shared previously undisclosed data with a steering committee charged with locating the parents of children who were separated at the U.S./Mexico border in 2017 and 2018, according to court documents. The data could help with efforts to locate the families of children who have not yet been reunited with their parents.
The new data was shared with the committee on Nov. 25 and comes from the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, containing phone numbers and other information that was not previously shared with lawyers and nonprofit organizations who make up the steering committee appointed by a judge to locate the families who were separated as part of the Trump Administration’s Zero Tolerance policy.
“Because the information was provided on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, the Committee has not yet had time to determine the full scope or usefulness of this new information,” reads a joint status report filed in court on Wednesday.
The parents of 628 children have not yet been located by the steering committee, the status report says. (A previous court filing from October reported 545 children’s parents had yet to be located, but on Nov. 9, NBC News obtained an email containing information that the number increased to 666). Of those 628, parents of 295 are believed to have been deported, and the parents of approximately 333 children are believed to be in the U.S. The steering committee adds that though the parents have not yet been located, another family member has been reached for 168 of the 628 children.
“We have been repeatedly asking the Trump administration for any additional data they might have to help locate the families and are only finally getting these new phone numbers and addresses,” Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project and lead attorney representing the separated children, tells NBC News.
Several organizations involved in the search for parents of the separated children have criticized the government for not sharing the information sooner.
“The Trump Admin purposely withheld vital information delaying the process of reuniting children separated from their parents. It’s cruel & a violation of human rights that our gov’t unduly prolonged these children’s pain & suffering,” shared Kids In Need of Defense (KIND), an organization which provides legal representation and support for the children who remain in the U.S., in a Thursday tweet.
Justice in Motion, which works with volunteers in Central America to help locate the parents who are believed to have been deported there, called for President-Elect Joe Biden to return the deported parents to the U.S. and grant the families a legal status in a Wednesday Tweet.
Biden has promised to dedicate a task force on day one of his Administration to help locate the remaining parents and reunite them with their children.