CHN: Many More Migrant Children Separated from Families than Originally Thought

While the battle over funding for a border wall continues in Washington, a government watchdog report released on Jan. 17 found that the Trump Administration likely separated thousands more migrant children from their parents at the U.S. border than has previously been made public, but federal efforts to track those children have been so poor that the precise number is unknown. The revelations by the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services drew concern and outrage from immigrant advocates, and members of the U.S. House immediately promised to step up oversight efforts.

“Today’s report sheds horrifying new light on the Trump Administration’s massive effort to tear apart migrant families,” said U.S. Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), incoming chairwoman of the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee. “It reveals heartlessness and carelessness on a level even beyond what we had known. Not only did this Administration take thousands more children away from their parents – it failed to keep information about the total number and current status of children separated from their parents or guardians. That’s unconscionable and inexcusable.”

“It is clear the Department of Health and Human Services did not have a clue as to how to reunite the children they were cruelly separating at President Trump’s insistence,” added U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), incoming chair of the House Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee. “They cannot even tell us how many children they separated. This is government-sanctioned child abuse, and the whole ordeal is a stain on our nation and our values. I refuse to let the Trump Administration get away with this without conducting vigorous Congressional oversight.”

The Inspector General’s report found that no one systematically kept count of children separated from their parents until a lawsuit last spring triggered by the Trump Administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, under which the government tried to criminally prosecute all parents who crossed the border illegally, taking their children from them in the process. As a result of the lawsuit, the government identified about 2,700 separated children in federal custody as of June 2018, some of them infants and toddlers. But HHS officials say there was a sharp spike in separated children starting a year earlier, shortly after Trump took office, according to the Inspector General’s report. Investigators now say thousands more children were taken from their parents or other guardians by border or immigration agents during that time and later released.

The ACLU, which sued the government over the separations, said the report “reaffirms that the government never had a clear picture of how many children it ripped from their parents. We will be back in court over this latest revelation.”

Meanwhile, officials have announced that the government has “effectively closed” a tent city in Tornillo, Texas, that has housed some 2,800 migrant teenagers. However, plans are now underway in Homestead, Florida to nearly double the capacity of a similar, unregulated center for migrant teens. The “temporary shelter” this month will increase its capacity from 1,350 to 2,350 beds, according to HHS officials.

family separation