The Trump administration has had in its possession additional contact information that could prove vital in helping reunite families it cruelly ripped apart at the southern border but has only just now given that data to advocates tasked by a federal judge with finding deported parents, NBC News reports. Attorneys said the data has not yet been fully reviewed but does include “phone numbers that had not previously been known.”
The report said the data was turned over only after advocates have been pleading for months for any additional information that could prove vital in putting back together the families the federal government tore in two. "Everyone's been asking whether the Trump administration has been helping to find these families,” American Civil Liberties Union attorney Lee Gelernt told NBC News. “Not only have they not been helping, but they have been withholding this data forever.”
Court documents this past September revealed that 545 children kidnapped from their parents by the administration in 2017 remained separated from their families three years later. Additional documents later showed that the number of separated children was actually even higher, at 666. “The filing Wednesday said some families have been identified since then, bringing the number of parents whose whereabouts are still unknown to 628,” NBC News reports.
The report said attorneys “have not had adequate time to review” the additional data the federal government just turned over, so it’s still not clear how many families it could help. But even if it helps reunite just one family, that’s one family the administration could have already put back together but didn’t. Instead, it apparently sat on the information for months.
"We have been repeatedly asking the Trump administration for any additional data they might have to help locate the families and are only finally getting these new phone numbers and addresses," Lee continued in the report. “Unfortunately, it took the issue reaching the level of a presidential debate to move them to give us this data."
President-elect Joe Biden has called the ongoing separations “criminal” and has pledged to create a federal task force to reunite these families, but has reportedly been undecided about whether deported parents will be allowed to return to the U.S. Decency and justice say that they should be able to return to the U.S. if they wish, as advocates like Congressional Hispanic Caucus chair Joaquin Castro have said, and that they also be put on a path to legal status to start.
The administration’s ongoing cruelty also continues to add to the case for why a human rights commission must be created to investigate these abuses. Such a commission, Castro said last month, is “the right thing to do and also, in many ways, necessary for our country.”
“I believe that, given the human rights abuses during the Trump administration,” he told Vox, “it would be appropriate for the United States to create either a human rights commission or for the Congress to create a select committee that investigates these abuses, makes recommendations for policy changes so that they don’t happen again in our country, and identifies individuals who should be held responsible and accountable for their actions.”
Further reporting from NBC News last month also revealed that White House aide and noted white supremacist Stephen Miller initially blocked a deal paying for mental health services for families traumatized by the administration’s policy. While the administration eventually ended up paying for an even more expansive settlement, “[l]awyers and counselors for the families say the delay meant extended trauma for children, some of whom thought their parents ‘had deliberately abandoned them,’” journalist Julia Ainsley tweeted.