Dozens of families and children, including one 5 months old, were separated at U.S. ports of entry in 2018 after applying for asylum, although senior homeland security officials have assured that immigrants who match their profile will not on a report by a general inspector from BuzzFeed News.
The report found that 40 children in this group were separated from their parents for at least four weeks, even though their family was not seen for more than a year. Most of the separated children were 13 years old and younger, according to the unpublished report by the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security. The separations occurred at the height of the Trump administration’s so-called zero tolerance policy between May and June 2018.
In one case, the report identified a 26-year-old Guatemalan woman who appeared in an entry port and applied for asylum with their four children aged 12, 8, 5 and 5 months. Customs and border guards separated the mother from her children on May 21, 2018 due to two previous deportations from the United States. The family was separated for seven weeks. The mother informed the inspector general that as a result she could no longer breastfeed her child.
The report is the latest government document detailing a myriad of issues with hastily enforced policies, and appears to undermine earlier statements by senior Trump administration officials, including former DHS secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. The document comes more than two years since spring 2018, when the Trump administration announced the so-called zero tolerance policy aimed at those who crossed the border without permission.
At a press conference at the White House on June 18, Nielsen, 2018, said: “The DHS does not separate families who legitimately seek asylum in the ports of entry. If an adult enters an entry port and applies for asylum, he will not be prosecuted for illegal entry. They have not committed a crime by entering the port of entry. ”
Nielsen added that the DHS would only separate families in ports if” we cannot determine that there is a family relationship if the child is at risk with the parent or legal guardian or if the parent or legal guardians are transferred to law enforcement. “
Investigators at the DHS, who examined 12 ports of entry between July 2018 and April 2019, found this differently. While 25 separate families appeared to follow this heading, more than half did not.
“Between May and June 2018, employees of the Office of Field Operations who worked without clear instructions separated at least 35 asylum-seeking families in ports of entry for reasons other than the well-being of children or a” legal requirement “such as B. Arrest warrants, ”the report said. “Instead, OFO separated these families on the basis of previous violations of their parents’ immigration regulations, for example due to their previous entry into the USA without a visa. … These reasons for the separation did not seem to be compatible with the CBP policy and the DHS public messages regarding family separation at that time. “
A CBP official had publicly declared in July 2018 that there were only seven separations at the ports of entry during this period.
CBP guidelines at the time when family separations should only occur in rare cases, such as: B. a legal requirement, a safety concern or an active arrest warrant. However, investigators said the guidelines are vague and do not include additional instructions on how to separate children from their families.
DHS investigators said CBP officials had not consistently marked all families as separate, and it was also unclear how many families had been separated at the port of entry before June 2019. After a federal judge asked the DHS in June 2018 to end the separation without certain situations, CBP officials issued guidelines that resulted in a significant decrease in the number of separated families.
Earlier reports from the Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office documented political issues.
In November, the Inspector General found that DHS officers lacked the technology to track all immigrant families living at the southern border, so the watchdog could not confirm whether there was more than reported and whether they had been reunited. The poor reporting mechanisms were known to US customs and border guards for months, but were not addressed during the zero-tolerance plan that dissolved hundreds of families, the report added.
In March, the Government Accountability Office determined that all US agencies involved in the separation of immigrant families could not track parents and children closely, which in some cases made it difficult for the government to do so merge. The report looked at the coordination between the DHS and the Ministry of Health and Human Services, which provides custody of separated children with a migrant background.