The family separations crisis isn't over, but one milestone is close

New report says one child is left to be reunited

By Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN
John Moore/Getty Images

An emotional father embraces his son for the first time in months on August 7, 2018, in Guatemala City, Guatemala.

(CNN) - Just one child from a separated migrant family who's eligible for reunification remains in government custody, officials said in a court filing Friday night -- though the family separations crisis is far from over.

RELATED: 'Zero tolerance' a year later: How the US family separations crisis erupted

The filing, a regular status update submitted as part of the American Civil Liberties Union's lawsuit over separations of undocumented immigrant families, indicates that officials have made major headway in the court-ordered reunification process after months of efforts to track down hundreds of parents who were deported without their children.

But officials are gearing up for a new push to identify potentially thousands more separated families, and they've said it could take them two years to do that.

 

The latest on reunification efforts

 

The reunification process for the child who remains in custody could still take time, officials said Friday, as they're awaiting word on whether the parent wants to be reunified.

"Currently, there is one child in (Office of Refugee Resettlement) care proceeding toward reunification or other appropriate discharge," the filing said. "This child has a parent who departed from the United States, but the Steering Committee has advised that resolution of parental preference will be delayed."

More than 40 other children from separated families remain in government custody, but officials say those children won't be reunited with their parents, either because the parents waived reunification or because the parents were deemed unfit or a danger.

A total of 2,162 children from separated families have been reunified with their parents, the court filing said.

 

The next phase

 

An explosive government watchdog report in January revealed there could be thousands more families who were separated at the border but weren't previously acknowledged by the government. And last month US District Judge Dana Sabraw ruled that those families should be included in the class action lawsuit over family separations.

The government first detailed its proposed plan for identifying these previously unacknowledged families a week ago, outlining a strategy for piecing together exactly who might have been separated by combing through thousands of records using a mix of data analysis and manual review.

In this Friday's court filing, the government said it had begun an "expedited procurement process" to hire contractors to help with that effort "if necessary," including three data scientists and at least 10 contractors to work full time manually reviewing case files.

The proposed plan for identifying additional separated families has drawn sharp criticism from the ACLU, which has accused officials of dragging their feet.

Before a hearing scheduled for next week, the ACLU says, it plans to submit to the court "specific reasons why the government does not need two years and how the identification process can be completed in far less time."

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