Where are their parents?

Update: Recently, the government has indicated that there are more migrant children who are separated from their parents. The number is now approximately 666 children separated from their parents. The U.S. government has provided some previously undisclosed information that may help efforts to reunite these children with their parents.

Court appointed lawyers are unable to locate the parents of 545 migrant children separated by the Trump administration.

In 2018, the Trump administration formally initiated its zero tolerance policy or the policy of separating children from their parents at the southern U.S. border and filing criminal charges against the parents. The U.S. government separated more than 2,800 families during that year. In June 2019, the zero tolerance program was brought before the court and the judge required that the government disclose further information including the total number of deportations. The government's data indicated that actually more than 5,500 children had been separated from their parents prior to the program being terminated through Executive Order in 2018.

A court-appointed Steering Committee, which included a private law firm and immigrant advocacy organizations, was appointed to track down families and offer them the opportunity to be reunited with their children. What complicated this matter was that the zero tolerance policy started as a pilot program in El Paso, Texas in June-November 2017, and, more than 2/3 of the more than 1000 parents of the 545 separated children had been deported to Central America prior to the judge ordering the children be reunited with their parents. What further complicated efforts was the government's failure to keep records of the separated families. Although efforts were made to reunite these families, many parents refused to take their children back, stating that they would be safer in the United States. The children who remain in the U.S. without their parents were initially placed in shelters and are either with distant relatives or in foster care.

The parents of 545 children continue to remain unreachable. Advocates from the group Justice in Motion have been working in Mexico and Central America looking for them. Their efforts, however, have been put on pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Justice Department have been working to reunify the families at the border. However, Lee Gelernt, a top ACLU attorney, stated, "Sadly we are still looking for hundreds of families who were separated years ago and will not stop until we find all of them. Some of these children were only babies when ripped away from their parents."

In the October 22nd presidential debate, President Donald Trump stated that the parents could not be found because the children did not belong to them. He said, "Children are brought here by coyotes and lots of bad people, cartels, and they're brought here and it’s easy to use them to get into our country."

On October 27th, a paper published in "Pediatrics" concludes that the U.S. government's treatment of migrant children at the border falls under the United Nation's definition of torture. The authors of the Article call on the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and pediatricians to work with advocates to take action against this government treatment and call for the families to be reunited.

You can help the efforts to reunite these children with their parents including through donating to the ACLU (click to donate).

***Please keep in mind that this blog posting is for educational purposes only (i.e., to give you general information and a general understanding of this immigration related matter); this blog posting does not provide specific legal advice and does not form an attorney-client relationship.***


1. https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/immigration/lawyers-say-they-can-t-find-parents-545-migrant-children-n1244066

2. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/21/us/migrant-children-separated.html

3. https://www.kqed.org/news/11843880/us-treatment-of-migrant-children-falls-under-un-definition-of-torture-doctors-say

4. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/family-separation-parents-of-migrant-children-remain-unreachable/

5. hhttps://www.nbcnews.com/politics/immigration/lawyers-say-trump-admin-has-handed-over-data-will-help-n1249782

Rebecca Carcagno

The Law Offices of Rebecca Carcagno, PLLC

2512 Carpenter Rd

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Ann Arbor, MI 48108

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The Law Offices of Rebecca Carcagno, PLLC
2512 Carpenter Rd, Suite 102A
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48108
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