Homeland Security Lied About Family Separation Says Inspector General Report

Lack of preparation enhanced suffering of children, leading to cover-up from ICE and Border Patrol


A new report from the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security offers shocking details of the complete failure of the Trump Administration to provide for the care of the children it tore from the hands of their parents at the Border under its now-infamous “Zero Tolerance” police. The report also details the misinformation used by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to cover up its abuse of the children.

According to the report, the Department of Homeland Security “was not fully prepared to implement the Zero Tolerance Policy, or to deal with certain effects of the policy following implementation.” This is an understatement of the lack of caring and concern for the welfare of children and the suffering of families.

The report found that many of the illegal border crossings were actually encouraged by the Border Patrol. You may recall that the Trump administration insisted that any asylum seekers who did not present themselves at a port of entry should be treated as criminals and prosecuted in Federal court. Yet, the report found, when asylum seekers did present themselves as required, the Border Patrol often turned them away. “This may have led asylum-seekers at ports of entry to attempt illegal border crossings instead,” concluded the report. In interviews with detainees, the Inspector General learned that in some cases “they crossed the border illegally after initially being turned away at ports of entry.”

The report also found that the Department of Homeland Security failed to follow procedures regulating the length of time children can be held in the sorts of detention cages that provoked so much outrage over the summer. The law requires that detained children be turned over to the Office of Refugee Resettlement within 72 hours for placement in state regulated shelters or foster care.

The Inspector General found that the Border Patrol “exceeded the 72-hour period in many instances.” In a sample that the Inspector General’s team studied, 42% of the children were held for more than 72 hours at the grossly inadequate Border Patrol detention facilities. Some children in the Rio Grande Valley were held for as long as 25 days by Border Patrol before being transferred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

When families were separated, neither ICE, which jailed many of the parents, nor the Office of Refugee Resettlement had access to the Border Patrol databases and therefore could not tell parents where their children were being held. In many cases, the databases available did not even flag that the adult had come to the United States with a child.

On June 23, 2018, the Department of Homeland Security announced that this problem had been corrected and that a “central database” had been created that ICE, Border Patrol, and the Office for Refugee Resettlement could all access. “However,” the Inspector General, “found no evidence that such a database exists.” Let that sink in. Under pressure to account for the disappearance of children, they simply lied!

When the Inspector General “asked ICE for information that should have been accessible to ICE via the central database (e.g., information on the current location of separated children), ICE did not have ready access to the information,” the report says, “even after the announcement of the new database. Homeland Security was forced to acknowledge to the Inspector General “that there is no ‘direct electronic interface’” among the different agencies dealing with detained and separated families.

The report also found widespread “unreliability” in the data released by the Department of Homeland Security about the separated families. According to the report:

In the course of this review, OIG [Office of Inspector General] made several requests to DHS for data relating to alien family separations and reunifications. For example, OIG requested a list of every alien child separated from an adult since April 19, 2018,23 as well as basic information about each child, including the child’s date of birth; the child’s date of apprehension, separation, and (if applicable) reunification; and the location(s) in which the child was held while in DHS custody. It took DHS many weeks to provide the requested data, indicating that the Department does not maintain the data in a readily accessible format. Moreover, the data DHS eventually supplied was incomplete and inconsistent, raising questions about its reliability.

When the requested information was finally supplied to the Office of Inspector General, a review showed that it was missing “a number of children OIG had independently identified as being separated from an adult.” Moreover, the Inspector General was sometimes given data from different Homeland Security sources on the same detainees and that data was often inconsistent across databases. In examining the data sets, the Inspector General found that Homeland Security’s July announcement that all of the separated children had been reunited with their parents was not true. It found at least one instance where a parent and child were not reunited until September.

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