The inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security has released a special review of the Trump administration’s “Zero Tolerance Policy” that separated more than 2,600 migrant children from their parents earlier this year. The report — “Initial Observations Regarding Family Separation Issues Under the Zero Tolerance Policy” — is short on details, but reveals how the Trump administration trapped families and children in Kafkaesque horrors.
Here are six key takeaways from the report:
Customs and Border Protection flouted a law limiting its detention of children for more than three days
When Border Patrol takes custody of a migrant youth, that child is supposed to transferred to Health and Human Services within 72 hours, absent “exceptional circumstances.” The inspector general review underscores that “CBP facilities are not designed to hold people for long periods of time” and that Border Patrol policy mandates “every effort must be made to hold detainees for the least amount of time.”
But as Trump’s Zero Tolerance Policy went into effect, Border Patrol disregarded the mandated limits. “Border Patrol’s data shows that the Rio Grande Valley sector exceeded the 72-hour time period for at least 564 children (44 percent of children detained during this time).” One child was held for 25 days — or nearly 600 hours. The report offers no additional details about why this child was held for so long.
The policy endangered America
By transforming the Border Patrol into an ill-equipped child welfare agency, the IG report concludes, the Zero Tolerance Policy ironically detracted from Border Patrol’s core mission: “Instead of patrolling and securing the border, officers had to supervise and take care of children.”
There are still dozens of children separated from their parents
The IG report offers child-separation data through September 20th. And it’s clear that the Trump administration has still not met a court order to reunify the families separated by on account of the policy. According to the IG, of the 2,654 children “deemed eligible for reunification” by the feds, 403 have yet to be returned to their parents, including 19 kids under the age of five.
The Trump administration frequently closed legal border crossings, claiming America was full
Since 2016, Border Patrol has practiced what it calls “metering” of asylum seekers, closing legal ports of entry when CBP says it lacks space to process them. An IG footnote reveals this practice may be illegal: “Whether this practice is permissible under Federal and/or international law is currently being litigated.” The IG report reveals that these closures of legal ports of entry worsened the illegal crossings the Trump administration said it wanted to stop: “OIG saw evidence that limiting the volume of asylum-seekers entering at ports of entry leads some aliens who would otherwise seek legal entry into the United States to cross the border illegally.”
Incompatible computer systems endangered children
The IG report reveals that Border Patrol computer systems were incompatible with HHS computer systems, endangering the welfare of children who were transferred between the agencies. The workarounds involve email attachments: “For unaccompanied alien children who arrive at ports of entry, [CBP] officers must manually enter information into a Microsoft Word document, which they then send to HHS as an email attachment,” according to the IG review. “Each step of this manual process is vulnerable to human error, increasing the risk that a child could become lost in the system.”
CBP could have separated fewer families, but chose not to to avoid paperwork
Perhaps the most maddening revelation from the IG report is that many of the Trump administration’s family separations were gratuitous and attributed to laziness. “CBP may have been able to avoid separating some families,” the report states. “In McAllen, Texas, many adults prosecuted under the Zero Tolerance Policy were sentenced to time served and promptly returned to CBP custody. Several officers at CBP’s Central Processing Center in McAllen stated that if these individuals’ children were still at the facility when they returned from court, CBP would cancel the child’s transfer to HHS and reunite the family.” Here’s the twist: “However, CBP officials later arranged to have adults transferred directly from court to ICE custody, rather than readmitting them where they might be reunited with their children,” the IG review states. “According to a senior official who was involved with this decision, CBP made this change in order to avoid doing the additional paperwork required to readmit the adults.”