WASHINGTON — In Thursday night’s debate, President Donald Trump said his administration is “working very hard” to reunite parents with 545 migrant children who were separated when they crossed the U.S. border in 2017.
But advocacy groups say that since a federal judge ordered that the families be found more than 18 months ago, the task has largely fallen to them. Those pro bono groups say the Trump administration is only now offering assistance because of the “backlash” from media reports about the number of kids still awaiting reunification with their parents.
Hours before the debate, lawyers representing the government in a federal lawsuit brought on behalf of separated parents said they “could certainly be of some assistance” in helping track down the missing parents and children.
Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, said yesterday’s offer to help was “a PR move in response to the public’s backlash.”
“There have never been serious specific offers to help in concrete ways in the past,” Gelernt told NBC News.
In 2019, when Judge Dana Sabraw ordered that the parents of the children be tracked down, Justice Department lawyers said the task was “onerous” and estimated it would take one to two years to complete.
Steven Herzog, the lawyer heading the team of law firms and nonprofits working to reunite families, said in Thursday’s hearing that “what would be most helpful for us now is updated data and contact information,” such as phone numbers and addresses to help track down parents.
It is estimated that two-thirds of the parents who have not been reached have been deported back to Central America.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.