Photo: Gregory Bull/AP

Thousands of children were separated from their parents because of the Trump administration’s cruel “zero tolerance” policy at the border. But we still don’t know how many, who they were, and if they were ever reunited.

Now, a federal judge has ruled that the Trump administration must identify all of these children within six months, according to The Guardian. The administration had previously said that the process could take two years.

U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw set a deadline of Oct. 25, but said an extension past that was possible.

“I am going to issue an order to do this in six months, subject to good cause,” Sabraw said. “It is important for all government actors to have a timeframe, a deadline.”

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The order stems from a suit brought by the ACLU and others against Immigration and Customs Enforcement after a report from the inspector general of the Health and Human Services Department found that thousands more children than were initially known may have been separated from their families at the border. The administration was unaware of the total number of children separated, or whether they’d been reunified with their families.

According to the report, these children were “often very young” and needed “placement at specially licensed facilities.”

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There are currently 47,000 cases of unaccompanied children who were in U.S. custody between July 1, 2017 and July 25, 2018 that the government is tasked with reviewing.

At the time of Sabraw’s ruling that ended the family separation policy, at least 2,700 children had been separated from their families. Most of them have been reunited with their families, though 200 remain separated, as their parents were deported while they were detained.

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From The Guardian:

The administration will develop a statistical model within 12 weeks to search for factors most likely for separations. Those factors, detailed in an earlier court filing, include children under five, younger children traveling without a sibling and those detained in the border patrol’s El Paso, Texas, sector, where the administration ran a trial program that involved separating nearly 300 family members from July to November 2017.

On a parallel track, the administration will begin work immediately on identifying children who were separated after US customs and border protection introduced a tracking system in April 2018. [...]

Poor tracking before April 2018 and the fact that still-separated children are no longer in US custody complicates the latest task.

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Most separated children have been released to their relatives, though not necessarily their parents. In 2017, 49 percent of children released from custody went to their parents, while 41 percent went to close relatives. Another 10 percent went to distant relatives or family friends.

“The court order is exactly what we wanted,” ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt told reporters after the hearing. “Every day a parent and child are separated is devastating.”