April 26 (UPI) -- A federal judge in California is giving the Trump administration six months to go through nearly 50,000 records and identify all migrant children who were separated from their families by U.S. authorities at the border.
San Diego Judge Dana Sabraw informed government attorneys of the time frame at a hearing Thursday. The order is the result of a class-action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of migrant families who were detained after crossing into the United States.
A government report in January said many children were believed to have been separated in 2017, long before the administration's "zero tolerance" immigration policy began in early 2018. While nearly all adults faced criminal charges, the children were taken to separate shelters or placed in foster care, often in different locations.
Sabraw said he wants the administration to complete the identification process in six months -- a process the government said would take two years.
"The goal is to produce an accurate counting in as short of time as humanly possible to deliver an accurate counting," Public Health Service Commissioned Corps commander Jonathan White said.
The ACLU argued the process can be done in less than two years and urged the judge to push the government on the deadline.
"This order shows that the court continues to recognize the gravity of this situation," Lee Gelent, deputy director of the ACLU's immigrant rights project, said in a statement.
Administration officials have said it would be difficult to identify children who've been released from detention. They've also noted that U.S. Customs and Border Protection didn't start tracking separated families in a searchable database until about a year ago.