Hundreds of migrant children separated from their families as a result of the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy have not been properly documented, and the total number of separated children in U.S. custody is unknown, according to a report issued by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General.
“Overall, from the initial list of 3,600 potentially separated children, 946 were not included on the list that ORR [the Office of Refugee Resettlement] certified in July,” the report notes. “In June of 2018, no centralized system existed to identify, track or connect families separated by DHS.”
House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) did not mince words in his disapproval of the report.
“The OIG report released today shows that the Trump administration, with its unique blend of incompetence, cruelty, and disregard for basic decency, misled the American public on one of its most heinous policies to date,” Thompson tweeted. “We will not allow these reprehensible acts to go unanswered, and we will ensure that the President and his Administration are held accountable for their misdeeds.”
— House Homeland Security Committee (@HomelandDems) January 17, 2019
Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy at the border last April. In June, a federal district court judge ruled in Ms. L v. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that the federal government must account for all migrant children in their custody and return them to their families. There were certain provisions for children whose parents were convicted felons, drug addicts or ill.
Also in June, President Trump signed an order ending family separations, allowing for underage migrant children to stay with their parents following their apprehension.
The OIG report found that:
- The Department of Health and Human Services faced significant challenges in identifying separated children, including the lack of an existing, integrated data system to track separated families across HHS and DHS and the complexity of determining which children should be considered separated.
- Families are still being identified more than five months after the original court order.
OIG reported that there were 2,654 children that ORR considered eligible to be defined falling under Ms. L v. ICE. That figure would come into question, however, between July and December, as ORR staff received new information adding 162 children to that total. ORR also determined that 118 children had not been separated from their parents, and a formal ORR review added 118 preciously unreported children to the list.
“There is even less visibility for separated children who fall outside the court case,” the OIG noted. “The Court did not require HHS to determine the number, identity, or status of an estimated thousands of children whom DHS separated during an influx that began in 2017 and whom ORR released prior to Ms. L v. ICE. Additionally, efforts to identify and assess more recent separations may be hampered by incomplete information.”
The Administration for Children and Families, which is part of HHS, agreed with the conclusions of the report.
“ACF noted that the scope of OIG’s review was broader than the subset of separated children covered by Ms. L v. ICE and stated that statutes governing ORR operations do not define or require ORR to track separated children,” the report stated. “ACF also stated that the Court has never instructed ORR to determine the number of separated children whom ORR received and discharged before the June 26, 2018, court order.”