Report: DHS knew they couldn't track separated families

A report titled "DHS Lacked Technology Needed to Successfully Account for Separated Migrant Families" released conveniently just before Thanksgiving, when news often gets overlooked because of the holiday, by the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General about the family separations that resulted from the Trump administration's Zero Tolerance Policy at the US-Mexico border found that not only did they did not have the technology to keep track of children separated from the parents, they knew about it going in.

"DHS did not have the information technology (IT) system functionality needed to track separated migrant families during the execution of the Zero Tolerance Policy. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) adopted various ad hoc methods to record and track family separations, but these methods led to widespread errors."

The border patrol's system "did not have built in functionality to separate adults referred for prosecution from a family unit." The agents actually had to delete an entire family unit from their system in order to process the members of a family as single adults and unaccompanied children, which means the agents couldn't access the family unit's tracking number.

Border Patrol agents had to manually type in case notes, using ad hoc workarounds, and the report found the agents "inadvertently entered incorrect codes to indicate reasons for family separations, or incorrectly assigned children and adults to family units." The reports notes the errors were so bad, resulting in so many inaccuracies, one Border Patrol Chief was openly embarrassed.

They knew they didn't have the necessary IT functionality before Zero Tolerance was implemented.

"CBP officials have been aware of these IT deficiencies since at least November 2017 when U.S. Border Patrol conducted an initiative that mirrored the Zero Tolerance Policy."

This initiative, which was implemented in El Paso and of which the origin could not be determined by the OIG, seems to have been a test run for Zero Tolerance. The report found that border patrol agents requested assistance from CBP headquarters because their system did not have the ability to track family separations. That request, according to Border Patrol headquarters personnel "was not a high enough priority to warrant the time and resources."

The report also found that:

  • DHS didn't provide "adequate guidance" to those executing the policy.
    • Guidance wasn't provided to field personnel until after separation begun.
    • A 14-page presentation was sent out, but no accompanying system-based training was provide.
    • Guidelines for 100-percent prosecutions wasn't sent out until the night before Zero Tolerance begun.
    • Instructions on which children should be separated from their parents wasn't "effectively provided."
  • We still don't know total number of families DHS separated.
  • DHS spent $1.2 million in overtime costs.
  • They didn't achieve their goal of deterring "Catch-and-Release."
  • DHS broke the 73-hour legal limit of holding children (as we know) in CBP facilities due to the surge in apprehended families.
  • "CBP's limited staff resources and facilities were strained as agents cared for UAC (unaccompanied children) rather than patrolling the border."

The OIG also provided five recommendations to DHS to account for and reunify separated families, all of which DHS has concurred with and of which 1, 2, 4 and 5 are considered open and resolved:

1: We recommend the Chief, United States Border Patrol, institute process improvements and related training needed to improve field personnel abilities to track separated migrant family members.

2: We recommend the Assistant Commissioner, CBP Office of Information and Technology, implement necessary modifications and controls within the ENFORCE 3 system to limit user error and improve data quality.

4: We recommend the DHS Chief Information Officer work with ICE and CBP to ensure system interoperability to improve crosscomponent information sharing and coordination on border security operations.

5: We recommend the Deputy Under Secretary for Management coordinate with Health and Human Services to standardize processes for collecting and sharing detainee tracking information and communicating those requirements to field personnel.

Recommendation 3 which states, "We recommend the Executive Associate Director, ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations, coordinate with the Department of Health and Human Services to outline roles and responsibilities, and create and distribute standard operating procedures for migrant family reunification" is still open and unresolved. DHS has 90 days to fulfill OIG's respond with how they will implement recommendation.

Representative Zoe Lofgren, Chair of the Immigration and Citizenship Subcommitte of the House Judiciary Committee says DHS officials must be held accountable.

“As a mother, grandmother, and American, my heart aches for these children and families. The revelations in the Inspector General’s report make clear that this heartache and suffering was entirely avoidable — and it shocks the conscience."

One story in the report that stood out as an example of the scale of their incompetence, in a section about discrepancies in family separation counts between CBP and Health and Human Services, is how a 1-year-old was separated from its mother, but because the mother was under 18 herself CBP did not consider it a family separation.


Twitter: @CoryUpdate

Photo Credit: Getty Images

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