The Office of Inspector General for the US Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) released a report on Thursday which found that the number of children separated from their parents or guardians by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are thousands higher than previously reported by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).
A June 26, 2018, court order required that ORR identify and reunify separated children in their care as of that date. The ORR produced a list of 2,816 children as of December 2018 that met the court’s definition. Child separations increased after an April 2017 memorandum by the Attorney General which created a “zero-tolerance policy” for attempts to enter the US from illegal immigrants. The court order did not require HHS to identify the children separated by DHS between April 2017 and June 2018. The report estimates that thousands of additional children were separated from their parents during that time.
The report is unable to provide an accurate number of children who were separated during this time frame. Tracking of DHS separated children was informal during this period, using either spreadsheet or SharePoint databases. No integrated HHS-DHS system existed for identifying and tracking the separated families.
Additional children that meet the court order requirements are still being identified five months after the court date. As of December 12, 2018, 159 children of the identified children remained in the care of ORR. Of these, 95 children’s parents refused reunification, 28 parents were found to be unfit for reunification, 8 were pursuing reunification, and 28 were found to not have been separated from a parent.
ORR has made several changes to improve the tracking of separated families since the court date. However, the report has noted that “it is not yet clear whether ORR’s recent changes are sufficient to ensure consistent and accurate data about separated children, and the lack of detail in information received from DHS continues to pose challenges.”
In June 2018, a judge found that the “zero-tolerance” policy may violate due process rights. President Trump signed an executive order in June 2018 ending the policy.