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By ELLIOT SPAGAT

SAN DIEGO — The Trump administration wants up to two years to find potentially thousands of children who were separated from their families at the border before a judge halted the practice last year, a task that it says is more laborious than previous efforts because the children are no longer in government custody.

The Justice Department said in a court filing late Friday that it will take at least a year to review about 47,000 cases of unaccompanied children taken into government custody between July 1, 2017 and June 25, 2018 — the day before U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw halted the general practice of splitting families. The administration would begin by sifting through names for traits most likely to signal separation — for example, children under 5.

The administration would provide information on separated families on a rolling basis to the American Civil Liberties Union, which sued to reunite families and criticized the proposed timeline on Saturday.

  • FILE – In this June 20, 2018, file photo, immigrant children walk in a line outside the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children, a former Job Corps site that now houses them in Homestead, Fla. The Trump administration wants up to two years to find potentially thousands of children who were separated from their parents at the border before a judge halted the practice last year. The Justice Department said in a court filing late Friday, April 5, 2019 in San Diego that it will take at least a year to review the cases of 47,000 unaccompanied children taken in custody between July 1, 2017 and June 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File)

  • FILE – In this June 24, 2019 file photo, immigrants from Honduras seeking asylum wait on the Gateway International Bridge, which connects the United States and Mexico, in Matamoros, Mexico. The Trump administration wants up to two years to find potentially thousands of children who were separated from their parents at the border before a judge halted the practice last year. The Justice Department said in a court filing late Friday, April 5, 2019 in San Diego that it will take at least a year to review the cases of 47,000 unaccompanied children taken in custody between July 1, 2017 and June 25, 2018. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

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  • FILE – In this June 25, 2018 file photo, U.S. Border Patrol agents load a migrant from Guatemala into a van after he was caught trying to enter the United States illegally in Hidalgo, Texas. The Trump administration wants up to two years to find potentially thousands of children who were separated from their parents at the border before a judge halted the practice last year. The Justice Department said in a court filing late Friday, April 5, 2019 in San Diego that it will take at least a year to review the cases of 47,000 unaccompanied children taken in custody between July 1, 2017 and June 25, 2018. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • FILE – In this June 17, 2018 file photo provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, people whove been taken into custody related to cases of illegal entry into the United States, sit in one of the cages at a facility in McAllen, Texas. The Trump administration wants up to two years to find potentially thousands of children who were separated from their parents at the border before a judge halted the practice last year. The Justice Department said in a court filing late Friday, April 5, 2019 in San Diego that it will take at least a year to review the cases of 47,000 unaccompanied children taken in custody between July 1, 2017 and June 25, 2018. (U.S. Customs and Border Protections Rio Grande Valley Sector via AP)

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

Sabraw ordered last year that more than 2,700 children in government care on June 26, 2018 be reunited with their families, which has largely been accomplished. Then, in January, the U.S. Health and Human Services Departments internal watchdog reported that thousands more children may have been separated since the summer of 2017. The departments inspector general said the precise number was unknown.

The judge ruled last month that he could hold the government accountable for families that were separated before his June order and asked the government submit a proposal for the next steps. A hearing is scheduled April 16.

Sheer volume makes the job different than identifying children who were in custody at the time of the judges June order, Jonathan White, a commander of the U.S. Public Health Service and Health and Human Services point person on family reunification, said in an affidavit.

White, whose work has drawn strong praise from the judge, would lead the effort to identify additional families on behalf of Health and Health and Human Services with counterparts at Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs and Enforcement. Dr. Barry Graubard, a statistics expert at the National Cancer Institute, developed a system to flag for early attention those most likely to have been separated.

The vast majority of separated childreRead More – Source

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