OIG Report: Regarding Family Separation Issues Under Zero Tolerance

Seal of the United States Department of Homeland Security with the U.S./Mexico border behind it. Image by DHS/Lenny Ghoul.

Tuesday the Office of the Inspector General for Homeland Security released a special review regarding border family separation issues under the Trump administrations’ zero tolerance policy.

The report which is twenty-five pages long has no official recommendations as it was just an observation report conducted, “in light of the heightened public and congressional interest in the Department of Homeland Security’s separation of families at the southern border.”

The public and congressional interest was based on Attorney General Jeff Sessions spring announcement of a new “zero tolerance policy” on how to handle illegal border crossings as the News Blender reported.

One Takeaway From the Report:

One major factor that seems to have made implementation of the policy disjointed was the lack of information sharing between, Health and Human Services (HHS), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The IG writes, “The United States does not have a fully integrated Federal immigration information technology system. As a result, Federal agencies involved in the immigration process often utilize separate information technology systems to facilitate their work.” 

Because the U.S. lacks this integrated system it made difficult to identify, track, and reunify families that were separated under the zero tolerance policy. 

According to the IG, ICE Officers reported that when the zero tolerance policy went into effect, “ICE’s system did not display data from CBP’s systems that would have indicated whether a detainee had been separated from a child.” ICE explained, “although CBP enters this family separation data into certain fields within its own system, those particular fields are not visible in ICE’s system.” 

The IG believes that the lack of sharing information has led to inconsistency with the data provided by all Federal agencies involved in implementing and carrying out the zero tolerance policy, for example, the report notes, “OIG identified 24 children who appeared in the DHS data set, but not on the matching table. When OIG requested additional information from the Department about these 24 children, the information provided revealed inaccuracies in the data DHS had previously provided to OIG.” 

This lack of integration between the Federal Agencies also led to the CBP’s Office of Field Operations (OFO) having to “manually enter information into a Microsoft Word document, which they then send to HHS as an email attachment.” 

In June of 2018 DHS and HHS, announced that they had “a central database,” but according to the IG, this database does not exist, instead according to “several ICE employees,” the database that was referenced was in fact, “a manually-compiled spreadsheet maintained by HHS, CBP, and ICE personnel. According to these officials, DHS calls this spreadsheet a “matching table.”

Katie Waldman, a spokeswoman for DHS issued a emailed statement via The New York Times, writing in regards to the report that it highlights the “difficulties in enforcing immigration laws that are broken and poorly written,” she added, “This administration will no longer turn a blind eye to illegal immigration and will continue to refer illegal border crossers for prosecution,”

The OIG notes that they “anticipate undertaking a more in-depth review” on some of the problems in the future. 

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