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Marcela, 9, daughter of Douglas Almendarez, 37, a deportee from the U.S. who was separated from his son Eduardo Almendarez, 11, at the Rio Grande entry point under the Trump administration's hardline immigration policy, rests on her mother's leg, in La Union, in Olancho state Honduras July 14, 2018. Photo by Edgard Garrido/Reuters

Nearly 500 migrant children remain separated from their parents. Here’s what we know

Nearly 500 migrant children remain separated from their parents and under the federal government’s care, according to court documents filed this week.

The latest numbers are a slight improvement on last week’s status update on the effort to reunify migrant families who were separated at the southwest border.

Most of the 2,600-plus affected by the practice of separating children from their parents, under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy earlier this spring, have been reunited, according to the latest numbers. But more than a month after a court-ordered deadline in late July, 497 remain apart.

U.S. District Court Judge Dana Sabraw, commenting on the discrepancies among some of the numbers submitted by the government, said Friday that the U.S. ought to avoid the “natural tendency to treat each person as a number.”

Here’s how the government broke down the latest numbers and what will happen with the family reunification process next.

What are the latest numbers?

In a status update Thursday, the federal government said of the total 2,654 separated migrant children, 2,157 have been “discharged.” That’s 31 more children since last week who were either reunified with their parents or placed with a sponsor within the U.S., among other circumstances, such as a child turning 18 years old.

As of Aug. 27, 2018, 497 children remain separated from their parents. Of that same group, 22 children are under age 5. That’s one fewer child than last week.

Parents of 322 children are located outside of the U.S., according to the documents. Of this group, six children are under age 5.

In the past several weeks, the federal government and the American Civil Liberties Union have been making these cases a priority in the reunification effort, launching an outreach plan to connect with parents in their home countries.

Of the children who remain separated from their parents:

  • 322 have adults who are currently outside the U.S.
  • 167 belong to parents who “indicated desire against reunification.” This number increased by 28 adults. Personal court declarations have alleged that some parents may have been coerced into waiving their reunification rights
  • 52 children are still under U.S. care “where further review shows they were not separated from parents by DHS”
  • 35 adults had a “red flag” in their background checks
  • 17 adults are in federal, state or local custody
  • 18 adults had a “red flag,” concerning safety and well-being
  • 3 adults had a “red flag,” concerning parentage

What does this mean?

In Friday’s hearing, U.S. District Court Judge Dana Sabraw said the reunification effort “continues to look encouraging.”

The judge zeroed in on the discrepancy between the ACLU and the U.S. government’s separate estimates for the number of parents who are no longer in the U.S. who were called and not successfully reached. The ACLU said that number was 80. The U.S. said it was 4. The judge asked why there was such a stark contrast.

“When I read these numbers, they’re numbers. They’re digits,” Judge Sabraw said Friday. “It’s hard for me to understand what causes the difference” among the numbers.

“I’d want to know what person is behind the number,” the judge added, saying that there’s a need to make sure there’s real clarity and precision in keeping track of every person in this group of adults outside the U.S.

The effort to reach these adults has including working with the governments of their home countries to put up hotline numbers on public notices and billboards, hoping to get the attention of these parents.

Attorneys for the U.S. government said it was possible some of the information from the ACLU and its network could be dated and a “little more stale” than the government’s because the U.S. has been in contact with these families for a longer period of time.

Both parties agreed to meet and confer to lessen the discrepancy among their numbers. The judge agreed with the ACLU that the government should provide better identifiers — like a name — attached to these numbers.

What’s next?
The court update follows allegations from the government of El Salvador that three young migrants were abused at unspecified shelters in Arizona.

“They are sexual violations, sexual abuses, that is what this is about,” Liduvina Magarin, deputy foreign relations minister for El Salvador, told reporters Thursday, adding that the three children are between the ages of 12 to 17. Magarin has asked the U.S. to expedite their reunification “as soon as possible.”

Both the government and the ACLU are expected to continue providing numbers in court next week.

READ MORE: Separated parents unknowingly gave up reunification rights, lawyers say

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