The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which is leading a class action lawsuit against the government on behalf of affected families, learned on Thursday (October 24) that an additional 1,556 children were separated from their parents and guardians. According to Time, that means the total number of family separations since July 2017 adds up to nearly 5,500. The administration admitted to the new number when a judge ordered an accounting of every single case.
Lee Gelernt, the lead ACLU attorney in the lawsuit, spoke to Time about the big reveal. “We—naively, looking back—assumed the government was telling us about all the children they had separated,” he said. “I think what we’ve learned is that we need to continuously press the government to find out what they may not be disclosing.”
As a result of this new information, the ACLU has expanded its original lawsuit to include the additional affected families, Time reports. “At every stage of this case there have been shocking revelations,” Gelernt told Time. “In some ways, the real work is going to begin [now] because we have to try to find all these 1,500 families.”
The newly-disclosed cases deal with the period of July 1, 2017 through June 26, 2018, according to the ACLU—meaning many families were separated months before Sessions’ zero tolerance policy began on April 6, 2018. “There was a lot of public outcry over children who were separated during the zero tolerance policy, but this group of kids never really got that kind of public attention,” says Christie Turner, deputy director for special programs at Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), which is assisting in locating the families and providing them with legal services.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) still continues the practice of separating children from their parents and citing minor criminal histories as the rationale, Time points out. As Colorlines previously reported in July 2019, the ACLU accused the government of “systematically separating large numbers of families based on minor criminal history, highly dubious allegations of unfitness and errors in identifying bona fide parent-child relationships.” The ACLU specified in its motion at the time that “[the government is] separating young children based on such offenses as traffic violations, misdemeanor property damage and disorderly conduct violations.”
According to Time, DHS has yet to comment on the updated claim.