The Department of Homeland Security knew in 2018 it did not have the technology to track more than 26,000 children it had expected to be separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border through its "zero tolerance" policy, according to an agency inspector general's report, which also found there is a "high risk that DHS did not account for all separated children."
"Because of these IT deficiencies, we could not confirm the total number of families DHS separated during the Zero Tolerance period," the IG report said, reports Roll Call. The IG noted it discovered U.S. Customs and Border Protection potentially did not log an additional 1,369 family relationships.
Under the policy, implemented under then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, adults were separated from children and referred for criminal prosecution, leaving children as young as babies being labeled as being unaccompanied and put under the supervision of the Health and Human Services Department.
However, the report said, the DHS first became aware in 2017 it did not have the technology or procedures to track separated families, but did not remedy that issue.
"Key stakeholders had pressured DHS to implement the policy in May," a senior CBP official told IG investigators, even though the issues were not fixed.
A DHS official agreed with some parts of the report but said the draft contained "inflated numbers that will lead to misunderstandings and misperceptions" of efforts to comply with court orders.
The DHS also insisted its numbers have "undergone rigorous double and triple line-by-line checking by the relevant agencies."
After the policy went into effect, the separations were logged into a database that did not have the ability to document the cases' details separately from others. In one case, a nonprofit in Arizona asked about a deaf child who was separated from his father, but the boy's case record did not show details about the separation or about his disability.
By June 20, President Donald Trump ordered families be detained together and a federal judge not long after ordered children be reunited with their parents.
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