Children Separated From Families At Border Number Thousands More Than Previously Reported

Honduran migrants from the new 'migrant caravan' walk out of the city on their way toward the Mexican border on January 17, 2019 in Guatemala City, Guatemala. More than one thousand Hondurans have set off toward the United States on foot or in vehicles in recent days.
Mario Tama / Getty Images

Thousands more migrant children may have been separated from their parents by immigration authorities at the United States border than previously reported, according to a new report from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the New York Times reports.

The true number of children separated is unknown, according to Ann Maxwell, assistant inspector general for evaluation and inspections, who also indicated that there had been no effort underway to identify or reunite separated children.

“More children over a longer period of time were separated by immigration authorities and were referred to HHS for care than is commonly discussed in the public debate,” Maxwell said.

HHS has officially identified 2,737 children in its care who had been separated from family as of a June 2018 court order to release that information. However, the actual number may be “thousands” more, according to the report, which looks at the large number of families separated when adults were held at federal detention facilities while children were brought into care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) within HHS.

HHS Press Secretary Evelyn J. Stauffer responded to the report, claiming that “[HHS] is committed to the accurate and transparent reporting of data” and pledged to cooperate with the investigation.

“Our focus at HHS is always on the safety and best interest of each child…and HHS treats its responsibility for each child with the utmost care,” she said in a published statement.

Through increased scrutiny regarding treatment of migrants at the border, President Donald Trump continues to make the case for the importance of border security.

The federal government was ordered to identify and reunite separated families through a federal court order in response to the class action lawsuit Ms. L v. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The suit stemmed from the zero-tolerance policy implemented by the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security in spring of 2018.

The Office of Inspector General completed the report through analysis of Internal HHS data and the review of court filings and other public documents. The office also completed a variety of interviews with HHS senior leadership, agency officials, and staff.

ORR officials claim a sharp increase in family separations since the summer of 2017.

In a separate review, the Office of Inspector General will make recommendations to improve ORR operations for the benefit of those affected. These recommendations and additional reporting are expected to be delivered through a series of reports to be made public throughout the year.