Wide­spread bungling with fam­ily sep­a­ra­tions

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DI­NAN

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion mis­led the na­tion dur­ing the fam­ily sep­a­ra­tions cri­sis when it claimed to have a “cen­tral data­base” to help il­le­gal im­mi­grant par­ents re­unite with their chil­dren, the De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity’s in­spec­tor gen­eral said in a re­port made pub­lic last Tues­day.

That was just one of a series of bun­gles that plagued the “zero tol­er­ance” bor­der pol­icy that the ad­min­is­tra­tion pur­sued in the spring and that led to thou­sands of chil­dren be­ing sep­a­rated from their par­ents.

The au­dit found that the gov­ern­ment lacked a re­li­able way to track chil­dren and par­ents once they were sep­a­rated, some chil­dren were stuck for more than three weeks in what was sup­posed to be three­day cus­tody, would-be asy­lum-seek­ers were left with mixed mes­sages about how to en­ter the coun­try while avoid­ing ar­rest, and the gov­ern­ment pushed peo­ple to jump the bor­der by hin­der­ing their en­try through the of­fi­cial ports of en­try.

The dev­as­tat­ing re­port con­cludes that the gov­ern­ment “was not fully pre­pared” to carry out the zero-tol­er­ance pol­icy when it was an­nounced.

Democrats, who had de­manded the re­port, said it con­firmed their worst fears.

“This IG re­port makes clear that ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials know­ingly lied to the Amer­i­can peo­ple,” said Sen. Robert Me­nen­dez, New Jer­sey Demo­crat. “We can­not stay silent as the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion abuses im­mi­grant fam­i­lies to push for a bla­tantly racist agenda. We are bet­ter than this.”

Home­land Se­cu­rity dis­puted some of the re­port’s find­ings, say­ing the man­age­ment of peo­ple at the of­fi­cial ports of en­try is sep­a­rate from the zero-tol­er­ance pol­icy for il­le­gal bor­der crossers.

A de­part­ment spokes­woman said the chaos the in­spec­tor gen­eral iden­ti­fied was spawned by poorly writ­ten laws and that the ad­min­is­tra­tion is try­ing to cur­tail il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion within a bro­ken frame­work.

“This ad­min­is­tra­tion will no longer turn a blind eye to il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion and will con­tinue to re­fer il­le­gal bor­der crossers for pros­e­cu­tion,” she said. “We are com­mit­ted to en­forc­ing the rule of law and en­sur­ing that there are con­se­quences for il­le­gal ac­tions.”

Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials be­gan the zero-tol­er­ance pol­icy to try to tamp down a surge of il­le­gal im­mi­grant fam­i­lies show­ing up at the bor­der hop­ing to take ad­van­tage of a “loop­hole” in pol­icy that treats fam­i­lies more le­niently than sin­gle adult il­le­gal im­mi­grants.

Un­der the pol­icy, fam­i­lies are pro­cessed and quickly re­leased on the of­ten-vain hope that they will re­turn for de­por­ta­tion later. Sin­gle adults, mean­while, are usu­ally de­tained un­til their cases are fin­ished.

Un­der zero tol­er­ance, the gov­ern­ment at­tempted to lodge crim­i­nal charges against il­le­gal bor­der crossers. Be­cause the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem can’t house fam­i­lies, it of­ten meant chil­dren were sep­a­rated from par­ents who crossed il­le­gally.

The sep­a­ra­tions be­came a na­tional scan­dal, with the in­spec­tor gen­eral con­clud­ing that the gov­ern­ment couldn’t re­li­ably track the chil­dren and fam­i­lies across the de­part­ments of Home­land Se­cu­rity, Jus­tice and Health and Hu­man Ser­vices.

The chil­dren sep­a­rated from their par­ents were sup­posed to be turned over quickly to the De­part­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices, but in at least a third of cases the gov­ern­ment broke the three-day limit — and in at least one case agents in Texas kept a child in cus­tody for 25 days, the au­dit found.

Gov­ern­ment com­put­ers weren’t con­nected, so when a fam­ily was sep­a­rated at the bor­der, nei­ther the de­por­ta­tion agency nor HHS, charged with tak­ing cus­tody of chil­dren with­out par­ents, was able to see crit­i­cal data in the sys­tem. They had to re­sort to emails and Mi­crosoft Word doc­u­ments.

The au­dit specif­i­cally re­buts Home­land Se­cu­rity’s claim in a June 23 fact sheet that it had a “cen­tral data­base” that it and HHS could use to track the sep­a­rated fam­i­lies.

The in­spec­tor gen­eral’s of­fice, or OIG, “found no ev­i­dence that such a data­base ex­ists. The OIG team asked sev­eral [Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment] em­ploy­ees, in­clud­ing those in­volved with DHS’ re­u­ni­fi­ca­tion ef­forts at ICE head­quar­ters, if they knew of such a data­base, and they did not,” the in­spec­tor gen­eral said.

Democrats said the re­port was a pierc­ing in­dict­ment of the gov­ern­ment’s pol­icy.

“We now know, con­trary to what the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has told us, that it bla­tantly broke the law and re­peat­edly kept chil­dren in the CBP cus­tody — of­ten in cages — for longer than the 72-hour limit,” said Rep. Ben­nie G. Thomp­son of Mis­sis­sippi, the top Demo­crat on the House Home­land Se­cu­rity Com­mit­tee. “We also now know the ad­min­is­tra­tion lied about keep­ing a cen­tral data­base to keep track of chil­dren that were un­der the care of DHS and HHS.”

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illi­nois Demo­crat, re­newed his call for Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Kirst­jen Nielsen to step down.

The Jus­tice De­part­ment’s in­spec­tor gen­eral an­nounced it would con­duct its own in­ves­ti­ga­tion into that de­part­ment’s han­dling of prose­cu­tions un­der zero tol­er­ance.

Home­land Se­cu­rity of­fi­cials say the zero-tol­er­ance prose­cu­tions ap­plied only to peo­ple caught jump­ing the bor­der, not to those who showed up at of­fi­cial ports of en­try seek­ing asy­lum.

But the in­spec­tor gen­eral said chaos was ev­i­dent at the ports, too, in the prac­tice of “me­ter­ing,” or lim­it­ing the num­ber of peo­ple al­lowed to make asy­lum claims at any time. Home­land Se­cu­rity of­fi­cials said that was an ef­fort to keep or­der and make sure they had enough space to process and hold peo­ple, but ac­tivists said it was part of an ef­fort to dis­cour­age le­gal asy­lum claims.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion dis­pelled some of the more dra­matic claims, in­clud­ing press re­ports that of­fi­cers were threat­en­ing asy­lum­seek­ers or giv­ing them false in­for­ma­tion. The au­dit found no ev­i­dence to back that up.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors said they were un­able to sus­tain the claim of an ac­tivist group that asy­lum-seek­ers were turned away even when there was enough space to han­dle them.

But the au­dit did say that the lim­its on how many peo­ple could claim asy­lum were con­fus­ing given that the ad­min­is­tra­tion was telling peo­ple to show up at the le­gal ports rather than jump the bor­der.

Bor­der Pa­trol of­fi­cials and il­le­gal im­mi­grants told the au­di­tors that when the ports of en­try are backed up, more peo­ple at­tempt to jump the bor­der il­le­gally.

“One woman said she had been turned away three times by an of­fi­cer on the bridge be­fore de­cid­ing to take her chances on il­le­gal en­try,” the in­ves­ti­ga­tion said.

In the of­fi­cial re­sponse in­cluded in the re­port, Home­land Se­cu­rity li­ai­son Jim H. Crumpacker com­plained that in­ves­ti­ga­tors were con­flat­ing too many parts of bor­der pol­icy in an au­dit on zero tol­er­ance.

He also said Home­land Se­cu­rity de­serves credit for “sig­nif­i­cant ac­com­plish­ments” in re­u­ni­fy­ing fam­i­lies af­ter the sep­a­ra­tion prac­tice was ended, both by a pres­i­den­tial ex­ec­u­tive or­der and a sub­se­quent court rul­ing.

Mr. Crumpacker did seem to ac­knowl­edge that the gov­ern­ment didn’t have a cen­tral­ized data­base, say­ing HHS and Home­land Se­cu­rity’s “track­ing sys­tems have no di­rect elec­tronic in­ter­face.” But he said they made “ex­haus­tive ef­forts to over­come this chal­lenge” to meet the court’s or­der for re­u­ni­fy­ing fam­i­lies.

“We also now know the ad­min­is­tra­tion lied about keep­ing a cen­tral data­base to keep track of chil­dren that were un­der the care of DHS and HHS.” — Rep. Ben­nie G. Thomp­son, Mis­sis­sippi, Demo­crat


Na­talia Oliveira da Silva was re­united with her daugh­ter, Sara, 5, in July. Un­der the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s zero-tol­er­ance pol­icy, the asy­lum­seek­ers had been sep­a­rated since May.

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