The Trump administration forcibly separated thousands more migrant children from their parents than was originally made public, an investigator’s report has found.
Because of lax federal recordkeeping, it’s unclear exactly how many more children were separated and, in many cases, to whom they were released.
According to the report, issued by the inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services, the Trump administration started separating children from parents early in Trump’s term, before officials announced their “zero-tolerance” policy in March 2018. Under the policy, parents attempting to cross the U.S-Mexico border were separated from their children and criminally prosecuted.
The report also said that 118 children were detained between June and November 2018, after Trump administration officials said they were discontinuing the separations.
Previous administrations occasionally separated migrant children at the border under certain criteria, such as if the parents had a criminal history or were judged to be unfit. Under the Trump administration, child separations became the default, and the numbers surged. According to the Washington Post, separated children amounted to 0.3 percent of all unaccompanied minors taken into HHS custody in late 2016. By August 2017, that percentage had risen exponentially, to 3.6 percent.
Many of the separated children were released from HHS custody before last June, when courts ordered federal officials to track more than 2,500 separated children and to regularly update a federal judge on their status. The whereabouts of the children released before that order are largely unknown.
The 24-page HHS report is the first in a series the inspector general’s office plans to release this year, detailing the government’s treatment of unaccompanied migrant children.
Last summer, the Trump administration opened a “tent city” in Tornillo, Texas, to house detained children. More than 6,000 ultimately stayed there, at a taxpayer cost of $750 a night per child. At the camp, children had limited access to legal help and received no schooling; some were moved from other shelters in the middle of the night to prevent escape attempts.
Last week, HHS officials said they had removed all the children from the tent city and were closing it.
The federal government is in its 26th day of a partial shutdown, the longest in history, over President Trump’s demand for $5.6 billion in taxpayer funding for his long-promised border wall. During the first two years of his term, the Republican-led House and Senate refused to fund it. After Democrats took control of Congress in the midterm elections, Trump made the same request. Again rebuffed, in December he refused to sign a continuing resolution to keep the government open.
A Jan. 9 Politico/Morning Consult poll found that only 44 percent of Americans support the construction of a border wall. According to a Quinnipiac poll released Monday, 63 percent of Americans oppose Trump’s strategy of shutting down the federal government to fund a wall.