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US says it needs 2 years to identify families separated at border

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A 2-year-old Honduran asylum seeker cries as her mother is searched and detained near the US-Mexico border on June 12, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (Photo by Getty Images)

The Trump administration wants up to two years to track thousands of immigrant children separated from their families at the southern US border.

According to a Justice Department court filing in San Diego, it will take at least a year to review a total of about 47,000 cases of unaccompanied children taken into government custody between July 1, 2017 and June 25, 2018.

“Defendants estimate that identifying all possible children ... would take at least 12 months, and possibly up to 24 months,” the government wrote in the filing late on Friday.

Factors that would affect the time frame include the effectiveness of the predictive statistical model, the manpower needed to be dedicated to the manual review, and any follow-up meetings required, the filing added.

In a statement on Saturday, the American Civil Liberties Union’s lead attorney for the case, Lee Gelernt, said the group strongly opposed the government’s proposed plan, adding, it does not treat the separations with the necessary urgency.

“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,” Gelernt said. “The government needs to make this a priority.”

The US government has already released the children from its custody, the vast majority to parents or close relatives. However, the department of Customs and Border Protection did not begin tracing separated families as a searchable data set before April last year, according to the filing. As a result, records are spotty.

The Trump administration’s policy of “zero tolerance” in May last year resulted in thousands of children being separated from their parents at the southern border and placed into HHS custody.

The controversial policy, which called for the criminal prosecution of all adult migrants who were detained after illegally crossing the southern US border, created a massive outcry and the backlash forced Washington to walk it back just three months later.

The United Nations, immigration and child advocates and Democratic lawmakers have all condemned the practice of separating families at the border.

The bulk of the separations involved Central Americans, who make up the majority of families crossing the southwest border.

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