The Trump administration likely separated thousands more children from their parents at the Southern border than was previously believed, according to a report by government inspectors released on Thursday.
Nearly 3,000 children were previously reported to have been forcibly separated from their parents under last year’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy under which nearly all adults entering the country illegally were prosecuted, and any children accompanying them were put into shelters or foster care.
Even before the administration officially unveiled the zero-tolerance policy in the spring of 2018, staff of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, the agency that oversees the care of children in federal custody, already had noted a “sharp increase” in the number of children separated from a parent or guardian, according to the report from the agency’s Office of Inspector General.
As of December, the department had identified 2,737 children who were separated from their parents under the policy and required to be reunified by a federal court order in June 2018.
But that number does not represent the full scope of family separations. Thousands of children may have been separated during an influx that began in 2017, before the accounting required by the court, the report said.
Thus, the total number of children separated from a parent or guardian by immigration authorities is “unknown,” because of the lack of a coordinated formal tracking system between the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the arm of Health and Human Services that takes in the children, and the Department of Homeland Security, which separated them from their parents.
On June 26, 2018, a federal judge in San Diego directed the federal government to halt the separation of parents and children at the border and to reunite them with their parents. President Trump rescinded the policy that same month.