The government may have separated thousands more migrant children from their families than previously reported, according to a report released Thursday by the inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services.
“The total number and current status of all children separated from their parents or guardians . . . is unknown,” according to the report, which found that families were being separated even before the Trump administration implemented its controversial zero-tolerance immigration-enforcement policy last spring. Over 2,700 children were separated after the policy took effect, and most of those were returned to their families as a result of a federal court case in which the judge ordered the administration to reunite them. But “an estimated thousands of children whom [immigration authorities] separated during an influx that began in 2017,” before the policy was implemented, did not fall under the court case’s directive, the report said.
Federal authorities separated “more children over a longer period of time” than previously understood, and “how many more children were separated is unknown, by us and HHS,” an HHS investigator told Politico.
The report also heavily criticized HHS officials for losing track of a number of separated children.
“It is not yet clear whether [HHS’s] recent changes are sufficient to ensure consistent and accurate data about separated children, and the lack of detail in information received from [immigration authorities] continues to pose challenges,” the report said.