Immigrant advocacy groups are gearing up to track down more than 400 parents who were separated from their children and deported without them.
The challenge is so daunting that government attorneys have bristled every time it’s come up in court.
And now a number of nonprofit groups say they’re prepared to join in a massive search.
“It’s going to be really hard detective work,” said Lee Gelernt, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney who’s been leading the organization’s lawsuit over separated families.
Already, some devastated parents are coming forward, desperate to be reunited with their kids, according to advocacy groups. But there are hundreds whose whereabouts are unknown.
Here’s a look at some of the key issues at play – and major hurdles complicating the process:
The government has said parents deported without their kids consented to that. Advocates aren’t so sure.
According to the latest government statistics, some 430 parents from separated families were likely deported without their kids. Officials maintain that before that happened, the parents consented.
“Parents that did return home without their child did so after being provided an opportunity to have that child accompany them on the way home,” said Matthew Albence, who heads US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s removal operations.
“We cannot force a parent to take a child with them,” he added.
It’s true that some parents do make the harrowing choice to be deported without their kids; they may decide it’s the best option for their families – and the only way for their children to survive.
But the ACLU and other immigrant rights groups argue that parents were coerced into signing paperwork they didn’t understand.
“It is our position that all of those families need to be considered as families that should be reunified and that the government should reunify them,” said Michelle Brané, director of migrant rights and justice for the Women’s Refugee Commission.
That’s a point of dispute that’s likely to come up when ACLU and government attorneys appear in court again on Friday. No matter what officials say, immigrant advocacy organizations say they’re determined to track down all the deported parents to verify details of their cases.
“Our hope is to find each one of those (parents) and find exactly what happened and why are they not with their child and do they want that child back,” the ACLU’s Gelernt said.
Some parents are likely living in remote areas hard to reach. And some might be afraid to come forward.
Finding deported parents will be much easier said than done. Gelernt described it as an “enormous task.”
A number of factors could make parents afraid to come forward, says Lisa Frydman, vice president of regional and policy initiatives for Kids in Need of Defense. The organization announced Thursday it was launching a new initiative to help reunite children with parents who were deported. The project will involve outreach efforts aimed at finding hundreds of parents in Central America, including working with local governments and community groups. But Frydman said the organization is still pinpointing what steps to take.