Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported some parents between July 2017 and July 2018 without giving them the opportunity to bring their children, contradicting claims made by the agency and the Department of Homeland Security, according to a newly released watchdog report.
During the Trump administration, officials claimed that some parents who had been separated from their children at the US-Mexico border opted to leave their children in the United States. But the Department of Homeland Security inspector general report released Monday found that ICE removed at least 348 parents without documenting that those parents wanted to leave their children in the US.
“In fact, ICE removed some parents without their children despite having evidence the parents wanted to bring their children back to their home country. In addition, we found that some ICE records purportedly documenting migrant parents’ decisions to leave their children in the United States were significantly flawed,” the report says.
The DHS inspector general findings contradict what senior officials said at the time. For example, in December 2018, then-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told lawmakers: “Every parent had the choice to bring the child back with them when they were removed. The ones who did not bring the children with them made the choice not to have the child accompany them.”
Monday’s watchdog report is the latest in a series of inspector general reviews that found inconsistencies within federal agencies during the rollout of the Trump administration’s border policy that resulted in thousands of parents being separated from their children.
In July 2017, DHS began referring parents crossing the border illegally for criminal prosecution on a pilot basis, resulting in them being separated from their children. That was later expanded under the Trump administration’s controversial “zero tolerance” policy in 2018.
Immigrant advocates and attorneys have said that some parents weren’t given the opportunity to reunify with their children before removal, prompting the inspector general’s review.
Before July 12, 2018, prior to the Trump administration distributing a form to memorialize decisions, migrant parents “did not consistently have the opportunity to reunify with their children before removal,” the report found.
“Although DHS and ICE have claimed that parents removed without their children chose to leave them behind, there was no policy or standard process requiring ICE officers to ascertain, document, or honor parents’ decisions regarding their children,” the report continues.
Under then-President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, border officials separated at least 2,800 children from their parents, according to government data. Officials later found that more than 1,000 children had been separated from their families before Trump’s policy went into effect in 2018.
Attorneys are still trying to reach the parents of 391 migrant children who had been separated at the US-Mexico border under the Trump administration, down from 445 last month, according to a federal court filing last Wednesday.