The Biden administration is reviewing 5,600 files to determine whether more children were separated from their families at the US-Mexico border during the Trump era than previously known, a senior Department of Homeland Security official told reporters Wednesday.
Under former President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, border officials separated at least 2,800 children from their parents, according to government data. Officials later found at least 1,712 more children had been separated from their families before Trump’s policy went into effect in May 2018.
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“The records are inconsistent and incomplete. We’ve now identified, as I mentioned, over 5,600 new files that were not reviewed at that time,” the official said, citing ongoing litigation that’s required a scrub of files. “This is a manual process, manually going through each file looking for clues. It’s our hope and expectation that this process will reveal only a few additional families, but it’s important to look through them and make sure.”
The files are mostly from January 20, 2017, until July 2017 and will be crosschecked with information in other government databases to confirm whether any of those included separations.
The effort stems from the family reunification task force set up by one of President Joe Biden’s executive orders. The task force involves federal agencies to identify and reunite families who had been separated at the US-Mexico border under the Trump administration. It’s housed in the Department of Homeland Security.
“Our current focus is to build the system that will accommodate the safe and secure process necessary to reunite these families,” the official said, adding that the task force has identified issues with record keeping along the way.
“There’s also a lot of missing information in the files and wrong dates, confusion in names, doubled up cases, and those are just a few of the issues we’re discovering,” the official said.
The official said the task force is working around the clock, but couldn’t provide a timeline on when reunifications, outside of those happening through litigation, will begin to occur.