April 6 (UPI) -- The U.S. government wants up to two years to identify thousands of families separated at the southern border, according to a court ruling.
The document, filed late Friday, explains officials from the Department of Health and Human Services, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Customs and Border Protection would use data analysis to focus on which records are likely to be separated children, and then conduct slow manual reviews of 50,000 case. The process would take "at least 12 months, and possibly up to 24 months," according to the document obtained by CNN.
Complicating the process is that all the children from this group of separated families have already been released from government custody. Also, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection didn't start tracking separated families in searchable data set in its records before April 19, 2018.
Last April, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions officially created the administration's "zero tolerance" policy on the separation of thousands of immigrant families.
A federal court order by U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego in June 2018 forced the reunification of many of those families. Also, she blocked most family separations at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Last month she ruled thousands of more separated families would in the lawsuit. In January, a government watchdog report revealed there were more than the 2,737 it has previously acknowledged.
The Department of Health and Human Services and the inspector general said they can't identify how many more children were separated because of "significant challenges in identifying separated children."
The government said families had been separated since July 1, 2017.
In fiscal year 2018, Customs and Border Protection apprehended about 50,000 unaccompanied children, up from 41,435 in the previous year.
The case became a class action lawsuit after American Civil Liberties Union originally sued.
"The administration refuses to treat the family separation crisis it created with urgency," the ACLU posted Saturday on Twitter. "We strongly oppose any plan that gives the government up to two years to find kids."