The Department of Homeland Security was not prepared to implement the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy earlier this year that separated parents and children upon entering the United States illegally, a report by the department’s inspector general found.
The report details problems keeping track of children and reuniting them with their parents due to a mishmash of computer systems across the federal agencies involved in processing and housing migrants.
Despite a claim that Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services had a central database on separated parents and children, the inspector general “found no evidence that such a database exists.” Record-keeping issues also called into question statistics about how many families had been reunited, the report said. Steps were not taken to ensure that babies and toddlers, who could not yet talk, could be correctly identified through fingerprints, photographs, or other methods. Parents said they were not told that they would be separated from their children or how to contact them right away.
The report also highlights the use of short-term detention facilities to hold children for extended periods of time and conflicting messages sent by the department to asylum-seekers at border checkpoints that likely led to an increase in the number of illegal border crossings.
Homeland Security took issue with the report’s characterizations of children being held in short-term facilities and communication problems at border checkpoints. It said it was committed to treating people humanely and called the care and transfer of minor children a “critical operational priority.” —Anne K. Walters