A recently released report of an inspector general’s audit into the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) found that the Trump Administration is unable to verify the total number of migrant families separated in the wake of its “zero tolerance” policy. The policy, first implemented in May 2018, aimed to refer all adults entering the United States without inspection for prosecution, and it resulted in thousands of children being separated from their parents.  Before implementing the policy, the Trump Administration  estimated that more than 26,000 children would be separated from their parents by September 2018. In June 2018, as a result of enormous backlash, President Trump signed an executive order that called for keeping families together.

According to the inspector general report, the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) knew of “widespread errors” in its tracking system before the policy’s implementation in 2018. One critical reported error was that the system lacked a search capability to match a child and adult by last name, age range, or apprehension date. CBP failed to remedy the errors before implementing the policy, which created a higher potential for children to get lost within the system and would also make for a chaotic reunification process.

The watchdog report analyzed DHS data and found that from October 1, 2017 to February 14, 2019, there were 1,233 children whose potential family relationships were not accurately reported by CBP. DHS estimated that CBP agents had separated 3,014 children from their families while the policy was in place, and subsequently reunited 2,155 in the aftermath. However, according to the report, “without a reliable account of all family relationships,” the inspector general “could not validate the total number of separations, or reunifications.”


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