LOS ANGELES — During the Trump administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported at least 348 migrant parents separated from their children “without documenting that those parents wanted to leave" their children behind in the U.S., according to a new report from an internal government watchdog.
In a report dated May 18, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General said that “in some cases, ICE removed separated parents without their children even though ICE officers effecting their removal knew the parents wanted to bring their children with them.”
According to the report, some records also do not make clear whether or not ICE ever gave some parents the option of reunifying with their children before the parents were removed from the U.S.
The OIG said it had conducted the special review because of allegations from parents who had been removed that they weren’t given the option to reunify with their children.
The report found that these deportations began under the Trump administration’s pilot program for family separation in El Paso, Texas, in July 2017 and continued until July 11, 2018, several weeks after the official “zero tolerance” family separation policy had been stopped by executive order.
“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,” said the OIG report. “As a result, from the time the Government began increasing criminal prosecutions in July 2017, ICE removed at least 348 parents separated from their children without documenting that those parents wanted to leave their children in the United States.”
“In fact, ICE removed some parents without their children despite having evidence the parents wanted to bring their children back to their home country.”
ICE concurred with two recommendations the watchdog made to ensure that ICE documents parents’ decisions in the future and also shares information to make it possible to contact separated parents for whom such documentation is missing.
“This report’s findings are a tragic reminder of how parents and children were cruelly separated by the prior administration," a DHS spokesperson said.
"We are working tirelessly to reunite separated families and rebuild our immigration system so our laws are administered fairly and humanely. We concur with the recommendations in the Office of Inspector General’s report and will continue to take actions to build on the progress we have made."
The Trump administration separated more than 5,500 families during 2017 and 2018, according to pro bono lawyers commissioned by a federal judge to track down the parents of separated children.
The lawyers said in a court filing last week that they had yet to reach the parents of 391 children, down from 445 in April.
The Biden administration set up a task force to reunite separated parents, and the task force is working with the lawyers to bring back deported parents who have been identified. This month, the first four families were reunited.