Thousands of migrant children have been separated from their relatives at the United States-Mexico border, and according to the Trump administration, reuniting these families may not be “within the realm of the possible.”
The revelation came in a court filing on Friday. Jallyn Sualog, deputy director of the department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, was ordered to respond to an ACLU lawsuit challenging the federal government’s separation of thousands of children at the border since the summer of 2017. According to Sualog, her office doesn’t have the resources to locate the children.
“Even if performing the analysis Plaintiffs seek were within the realm of the possible, it would substantially imperil ORR’s ability to perform its core functions without significant increases in appropriations from Congress, and a rapid, dramatic expansion of the ORR data team,” she said in response to the suit, which is being heard by U.S. District Court Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego, according to NBC News.
She also stated that it is likely that the number of separated children exceeds the 2,737 originally listed by the government and argued that removing them from “sponsor” homes, mostly relatives or family friends, and returning them to their families could be harmful to the children.
Lee Gelernt, the ACLU’s lead attorney in the suit, is appalled by the disclosure.
“The Trump administration’s response is a shocking concession that it can’t easily find thousands of children it ripped from parents, and doesn’t even think it’s worth the time to locate each of them,” he said in a statement. “The administration also doesn’t dispute that separations are ongoing in significant numbers.”
Family separation at the southern border increased in June 2018, following then-attorney general Jeff Sessions “zero tolerance policy” that required everyone crossing the border illegally to be criminally prosecuted. To reunite the families separated during this time, Sualog says her agency would need a “rapid dramatic expansion” of staffing to review all 47,083 cases opened, which she believes would require a team of 100 people to work through in a year.
The next hearing is scheduled for February 21.