DOJ says it could take two years to identify thousands of children separated at border

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is reportedly seeking up to two years to identify thousands of migrant children who were separated from their parents at the southern border before a judge ended the practice.

The Trump administration detailed the proposed timeline in a court filing on Friday, according to The Associated Press, saying that it will take longer than anticipated to review an estimated 47,000 cases of unaccompanied children taken into U.S. custody between July 1, 2017, and June 25, 2018, and to determine which children were separated from their parents.

A federal judge’s ruling forced the Trump administration to end the practice of separating families at the border on June 26, 2018, following weeks of outrage from both sides of the aisle and the international community.

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The federal government is now looking to identify the thousands of children who were separated before the administration announced its “zero tolerance” policy to criminally prosecute all illegal border-crossers and detain their children separately.

The judge, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw, said last month that he can hold the administration accountable for those children who were separated before his June 2018 order, according to the AP.

The inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services earlier this year estimated that thousands of migrant children were separated from their parents before the policy was implemented. Most of the approximately 2,600 children separated under the policy have been reunited with their parents.

But the thousands of children separated before the policy was implemented have been released, many to distant relatives or other sponsors, and the government now says the identification and reunification process for those children will be difficult and could take "at least 12 months and possibly up to 24 months," according to NBC News.

A hearing on the DOJ's timeline is scheduled for later this month. 

The American Civil Liberties Union, which sued last year to halt the practice of separating families, criticized the two-year estimate over the weekend, the AP noted.

"We strongly oppose a plan that could take up to two years to locate these families," the group’s lead attorney, Lee Gelernt, said. "The government needs to make this a priority."

This report was updated at 8:23 a.m.