Watchdog: Many more migrant families may have been separated

WASHINGTON (AP) — Government investigators said Thursday that thousands more migrant children may have been separated from their families than the Trump administration has acknowledged.

A report from the Health and Human Services inspector general's office found that family separations were occurring before the spring of last year, when the administration announced its "zero tolerance" policy on the southwest border.

"The total number and current status of all children separated from their parents or guardians ... is unknown," according to the report. It could be thousands more because family separations were taking place much earlier, during an influx that began in 2017, investigators found.

The administration has identified a little more than 2,700 children who were separated from their families. That figure was released as part of a court case in which a federal judge ordered the families reunited.

Despite "considerable" effort by the department to locate all the children who were placed in its care after immigration authorities separated them from their families, officials were still finding new cases as long as five months after the judge's order requiring reunifications, the report said.

Investigators raised concerns about the children who have not been identified because they were not covered by Judge Dana Sabraw's reunification order. That directive did not apply to "an estimated thousands of children whom (immigration authorities) separated during an influx that began in 2017," the report said. Most of those children would have already been placed with sponsors before the court case.

"There is even less visibility for separated children who fall outside the court case," investigators concluded.

Moreover, inaccurate and incomplete information in government files may be hampering efforts to identify more recent cases of family separations.

Related: New mother's journey in the migrant caravan:

18 PHOTOS
New mother's journey in the migrant caravan
See Gallery
New mother's journey in the migrant caravan

Newborn Alvin Reyes sleeps next to his mother Honduran migrant Erly Marcial, 21, at a hospital in Puebla, Mexico, November 13, 2018.

(REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

Honduran migrant Maria Reyes, 6, wakes up next to her father Alvin Reyes and mother Erly Marcial, who is eight months pregnant, and her brother David, 2, after they spent the night with fellow migrants in Tapanatepec, Mexico, November 6, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

Honduran migrant Alvin Reyes, 39, touches his newborn son Alvin, next to his wife Erly Marcial, 21, at a hospital in Puebla, Mexico, November 13, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

Honduran migrant Erly Marcial, 21, organises her belongings next to her husband Alvin Reyes, 39, and their sons David, 2, and newborn Alvin, in the dormitory of a church where they are staying in Tijuana, Mexico, December 4, 2018. =

'(REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

Eight months pregnant Honduran migrant Erly Marcial, 21, takes a bath in the river with her son David, 2, in Tapanatepec, Mexico, November 6, 2018.

(REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

Eight months pregnant Honduran migrant Erly Marcial, 21, lies on cardboard while she stays with her family and fellow migrants in Tapanatepec, Mexico, November 6, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

Honduran migrant Erly Marcial, 21, carries her newborn son Alvin with her children, Maria, 6, and David, 2, while her husband Alvin Reyes buys bus tickets to Mexico City, at a bus station in Puebla, Mexico, November 13, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

Honduran migrants Erly Marcial, 21, and Alvin Reyes, 39, receive the Mexican birth certificate for their newborn son Alvin, in Puebla, Mexico, November 13, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

Eight months pregnant Honduran migrant Erly Marcial, 21, plays with her daughter Maria, 6, in the river in Tapanatepec, Mexico, November 6, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

Honduran migrant Alvin Reyes, 39, talks with doctors about the condition of his wife Erly Marcial, 21, who is eight months pregnant, at a hospital in Puebla, Mexico, November 12, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

Eight months pregnant Honduran migrant Erly Marcial, 21, takes a bath in the river next to her son David, 2, while they stay with fellow migrants in Tapanatepec, Mexico, November 6, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

Eight months pregnant Honduran migrant Erly Marcial, 21, is carried to a hospital on a stretcher in Puebla, Mexico, November 11, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

Eight months pregnant Honduran migrant Erly Marcial, 21, and her husband Alvin Reyes, 39, board a truck as they hitch a ride towards the U.S., in Santo Domingo Ingenio, Mexico, November 8, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

Eight months pregnant Honduran migrant Erly Marcial, 21, rests with fellow migrants on the road that links Tapanatepec and Santo Domingo Ingenio, near Tapanatepec, Mexico, November 7, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

Eight months pregnant Honduran migrant Erly Marcial, 21, walks with her husband Alvin Reyes, 39, carrying their children David, 2, and Maria, 6, on the road that links Tapanatepec and Santo Domingo Ingenio, near Tapanatepec, Mexico, November 7, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

Honduran migrant Alvin Reyes, 39, visits his wife Erly Marcial, 21, who is eight months pregnant, at a hospital in Puebla, Mexico, November 12, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

Honduran migrant Alvin Reyes, 39, embraces his son David, 2, next to his daughter Maria, 6, in front of the police station in Pijijiapan, Mexico, November 4, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

A man jogs next to the border wall between Mexico and the U.S., in Tijuana, Mexico, December 10, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

President Donald Trump rescinded the family separation policy last summer after an outcry. In some cases, toddlers had been separated from their parents and placed into HHS custody.

"Zero tolerance" for border crossers, under which everyone who enters the U.S. illegally faces potential criminal charges, triggered the family separations. Children cannot be kept indefinitely with parents or relatives under federal detention.

The watchdog's report found ongoing problems keeping track of children, which could affect their well-being. It said "it is not yet clear whether (HHS's) recent changes are sufficient to ensure consistent and accurate data about separated children, and the lack of detail in information received from (immigration authorities) continues to pose challenges."

The border continues to be a crucible for the Trump administration, with a partial government shutdown that has dragged on nearly a month over the president's demand for $5.7 billion for a border wall that congressional Democrats are unwilling to provide.

 

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.