Government Says It Could Take Up to Two Years to Reunite Separated Families

Credit: Vladimir Kokorin

(Español) According to officials from the Office of Refugee Resettlement, families separated at the border under the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy could have to wait up to two years before being reunited. The administration officials detailed their plan to the public for the first time at the beginning of April 2019, in documents filed with the federal court ordering the administration to begin reuniting the families. This filing comes a year after the administration’s wildly unpopular zero tolerance policy which eventually led to a judge ordering the reunion of these families. Amidst the uproar of the original policy, an independent watchdog group released a report in January stating thousands more families could have been separated than previously reported by officials. This among revelations the federal government had been separating families at the southern border as far back as July 1, 2017, months before the official announcement of the zero-tolerance policy.

Given the judge’s order, the government now faces a logistical nightmare in complying. Among the issues facing officials, all the children from the group of separated families have been released from government custody, Customs and Border Patrol agents did not begin tracking separated families in a searchable database until mid-April 2018, and there are over 50,000 case files officials would have to search through. As such, officials say they would need between 12 and 24 months to reunite families.

The American Civil Liberties Union was quick to denounce this timeframe as unacceptable, as they note “the government was able to quickly gather resources to tear these children away from their families and now they need to gather the resources to fix the damage.” This has prompted a lawsuit filed by a Congolese woman and her 7-year old daughter in 2018, which has been expanded to become a class-action lawsuit against the government. Even with the expansion into class-action status, federal judges have expanded the class even further to include families separated prior to the official start of the zero-tolerance policy.