(CN) – In a court filing late Friday, the Trump administration said it could take up to two years to locate thousands of immigrant children separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, saying that it would take that long since the children are not in custody of the government.
One year after former Attorney General Jeff Sessions enacted a zero tolerance immigration policy that has routinely been halted in multiple lawsuits, the Justice Department said Friday that it would need up to a year to examine about 47,000 cases of immigrant children taken into U.S. custody from July 1, 2017 to June 25, 2018.
Under the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy, immigrants families were separated from each other in an attempt to dissuade immigrants and asylum seekers from reaching the U.S. On June 26 last year, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw of the Southern District of California ordered the government to stop the practice of family separation and reunite affected families.
Government officials said the logistics of the operation would require the extra time since the children in the affected group have already been released from government custody, U.S. Customs and Border Protection tracking data on the children didn’t begin until April 19, 2018 and a manual review of the 47,000 cases would “overwhelm [the government’s] existing resources.”
Civil rights group American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the lawsuit, criticized the government’s filing.
“The administration refuses to treat the family separation crisis it created with urgency. We strongly oppose any plan that gives the government up to two years to find kids,” the group said in a statement on Twitter. “The government swiftly gathered resources to tear families apart. It must do the same to fix the damage.”
Lee Gelernt, lead attorney for the ACLU in the case, said two years is too long for children to be separated from their families.
“We strongly oppose a plan that would give the government up to two years to find these children. The government’s proposed plan reflects the Administration’s continuing refusal to treat these separations with the urgency they deserve,” Gelernt said in a written statement.
The Ms. L vs. Immigration and Customs Enforcement case was brought forward by a Congolese woman who was separated from her 7-year-old daughter. Sabraw granted the class action plaintiffs their motion for a preliminary injunction that blocked family separations at the southern border and ordered more than 2,700 children in government custody be reunited with their families.
In January, an internal report from the U.S. Health and Human Services Department revealed that thousands of other children may have been separated, but the number was unknown.