A new report from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) describes an almost impossible situation for parents who tried to speak to their children after they separated at the U.S. border. Following the public outcry against the Trump Administration’s tearing children away from their parents under the new zero-tolerance policy, the Department of Homeland Security announced that a toll-free hotline was available to detainees wishing to speak with their children. The hotline was supposed to be run by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The Inspector General’s investigators visited the detention center in Port Isabel, Texas, to see how parents were using the hotline.
According to the report, even though families had begun to be split up two months earlier, information about the hotline only went up on June 27, 2018. The flyer about the hotline did not inform detainees that they needed to obtain a unique passcode before dialing the toll-free number. Half of the parents the investigators spoke to said that they had not been able to speak to their children using the hotline. Ten out of twelve detainees interviewed by OIG said that no one from ICE helped them in any way to speak to their children.
Inspectors also found that detainees interested in trying to reunite with their children were referred to a guide in the detention center’s library. According to the report, when inspectors asked to see the guide “no ICE personnel could locate the document when OIG asked for it.”
Another finding was even more troubling. Border Patrol and ICE have separated very small children from their parents. These include pre-verbal toddlers. According to the report:
Border Patrol agents do not appear to take measures to ensure that preverbal children separated from their parents can be correctly identified. For instance, based on OIG’s observations, Border Patrol does not provide pre-verbal children with wrist bracelets or other means of identification, nor does Border Patrol fingerprint or photograph most children during processing to ensure that they can be easily linked with the proper file.
The lack of concern that basic steps be taken to eventually reunite parent and child is shocking. Apparently, misplacing someone else’s baby is of no concern to the Department of Homeland Security.