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More Migrant Children Were Separated From Their Families Than The US Government Admitted To

U.S. Customs and Border Protection

The Trump administration likely separated more children from their families than the original 2,737 than the government previously acknowledged. According to a report from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), thousands more migrant children were separated from their parents than originally stated. While the exact numbers are still uncertain, the original count from last year did not include the thousands more who officials say may have been separated from their families starting in 2017. As of now, the government does not know if these families have been reunified.

It’s likely impossible to see the full scope of how many migrant kids the Trump administration has taken away from their parents.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which runs the government shelters for unaccompanied migrant children, saw a “steep increase” in the number of separated children in 2017. Even before The Trump administration announced their “zero tolerance” policy at the border, “HHS faced significant challenges identifying which children in its care had been separated by” the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Amid fears of widespread loss or trafficking of immigrant children, the report’s evidence suggests most separated children (like children who arrive unaccompanied without parents) were placed with close relatives within the US. This startling report is the first U.S official acknowledgment that the Trump administration was using family separation as a tool to stop illegal immigration almost a year before it became actual policy.

According to the report, the spike in young children resulted in a shortage of beds for children in the agency’s care.

“More children over a longer period of time were separated by immigration authorities and were referred to HHS for care than is commonly discussed in the public debate,” Ann Maxwell, Assistant Inspector General for Evaluation and Inspections, told CNN. “How many more children were separated is unknown.”

There were some clues that this practice was being conducted prior to 2017. Then-Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly told CNN that the Trump administration conducted a “pilot program” from July 2017 to October 2017 to test the “zero tolerance” policy in El Paso.

Allegedly, there haven’t been efforts made by the Office of Refugee Resettlement to find the exact number of children separated by DHS.

According to Reuters, the practice of separating minors from adults has been standard practice “for more than a decade.” From October 2016 through February 2018, before the ‘zero tolerance’ was put in place, almost 1,800 immigrant families were separated at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The ORR has stated that the agency “has only limited resources,” and tracking previous DHS separations would deter them from their main focus of caring for children under government custody. They now have changed its tracking procedures to better flag and account for all children at intake.

While the “zero tolerance” policy came to an end last June, the report shows that children were still being separated. One hundred eighteen children were separated between July 1 and Nov. 7, 2018. Eighty-two of the children are under the age of 13 and 27 of them are under the age of 5. The DHS provided the ORR with limited information about the reasons for these separations.

HHS has now reunited nearly all of the 2,737 children with parents or released them to relatives living in the US. The prior separated children were all released before “zero tolerance.”

Last year, Customs and Border Protection apprehended about 50,000 unaccompanied children during the fiscal year which was up from 41,435 in 2017. Prior to the “zero tolerance” policy, children were separated from parents if they had a criminal history.

Lee Gelernt, the ACLU attorney who successfully led the court challenge that ended the Trump administration’s separation policy, said in a statement the he will return to court to take up the findings raised in the report.

“This policy was a cruel disaster from the start. 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.”


READ: Here’s What We Know So Far About The New Refugee Caravan That Just Left Honduras

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