“More children over a longer period of time” were separated from their family at the border than were previously known, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) inspector general told reporters on Thursday. “How many more children were separated is unknown, by us and the HHS.”
The new report illustrates the impact of the Trump administration’s policy of deterrence through separation, which was heavily criticised last year after media reports documented the methods used to separate asylum-seeking families after arrived on the US border seeking refuge.
The investigation also comes just after Democrats took control of the House of Representatives, where they will have the power to investigate the issue.
The first family separations were conducted as a part of the Trump administrations so-called “zero tolerance” policy that was introduced by former attorney general Jeff Sessions in May 2018, and the issue gained widespread media attention in June of that year.
Those media reports — which documented US officials telling parents they were taking children away for baths, only to never return the kids — led to a June 2018 court order to reunify the estimated 2,500 families that had been separated through the policy. While most of those children were reportedly reunified, the new inspector general report finds that “thousands” of children had been taken into HHS care before the order and it is unclear how many of those thousands were then reunified.
The report also found that the Trump administration repeatedly changed its estimate of the number of children in its care, and who had been separated for their families while trying to enter the US.
In June 2018, for instance, the US government said that there were 2,053 separated children in HHS custody. By October, there were 2,668 — a sharp increase.
Lee Gelernt, the lead attorney and deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said in a statement that the inspector general’s report proves the Trump administration had no idea the scope of its policy.
“This policy was a cruel disaster from the start,” Mr Gelernt said. “This report reaffirms that the government never had a clear picture of how many children it ripped from their parents. We will be back in court over this latest revelation.”
Donald Trump signed an executive order last year amid the criticism that was designed to end family separation, and force congress to act on the issue.
In the months that have followed, Mr Trump has now forced a partial government shutdown over border wall funding, and has cited an influx of asylum seekers traveling to the US from Central America as illustrative of the need for stricter border security measures.
In order to re-open the government, Mr Trump has demanded $5.7bn (£4.4bn) in border wall funding. Republican allies of his in the Senate have ensured that no vote relating to government funding bills has been held that does not include that funding since Democrats took control of the House earlier this month.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies