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Washington, March 8, 2019 – Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) today asked a federal judge for emergency relief ordering the government to stop separating families at the border without keeping records needed for reunification, as well as records explaining why it is separating the families. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen have continued to separate immigrant families with no system in place to properly track or document the thousands of children separated from their parents and guardians, in direct violation of the Federal Records Act (FRA), according to the motion for a preliminary injunction.
Last summer, when a court ordered the government to reunify families it forcibly separated under the Trump Administration’s Zero Tolerance policy, the government was unable to do so quickly and comprehensively. This was due largely to DHS’s failure to create adequate records linking the separated families. So far, the government’s efforts have not yielded a complete accounting of all the families DHS forcibly separated, nor has the government reunified each of those families. There is still no centralized database accessible by both DHS and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that contains comprehensive records regarding child separations and DHS continuously fails to properly document ongoing child separations, often failing to provide any reason at all for the separations. These revelations have been confirmed and reiterated by Inspectors General at DHS and HHS, the Government Accountability Office and Congressional oversight committees.
“Since the Trump Administration’s haphazard implementation of the Zero Tolerance Policy, the public has learned that DHS did not create documents to properly account for thousands of migrant children who were separated from their family,” said CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder. “To this day, the Trump Administration continues to carry out family separations at an alarming rate despite these failures, so we are now asking the courts to intervene and compel DHS to meet basic recordkeeping requirements mandated by federal law. This would be a crucial step in preventing further catastrophic impact on the lives of thousands of immigrants seeking entry to our country, including the permanent separation of children from their families.”
According to the original lawsuit filed by CREW last October, DHS failed to make adequate documentation of thousands of children and parents taken into custody in direct violation of the FRA. In congressional testimony last month, current and former government officials acknowledged that career DHS employees repeatedly raised concerns about the agency’s records management deficiencies during the rollout of the Zero Tolerance Policy, but that political appointees ignored those concerns.
“Although DHS could take simple steps to improve its recordkeeping and avoid inflicting further trauma on migrant families, it has not done so,” said RAICES Director of Litigation Manoj Govindaiah. “Recent reports from multiple parts of the government confirm that DHS has failed to improve its systems to avoid the chaos that ensued last June when it was ordered to reunify families it had already separated–a task it has still failed to complete. Family separations are ongoing, yet DHS is still not properly tracking them. We have no choice but to ask the court to compel DHS to follow its clear and unequivocal recordkeeping requirements under federal law to make sure this dark period in our history is not repeated.”
Following a complaint from CREW, the National Archives and Records Administration opened an investigation into DHS’s apparent violation of the FRA. Last October, CREW filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with DHS to understand the record management program DHS says is being used to bring families back together. In a second FOIA request, CREW asked for documents related to the process of identifying and tracking minors taken into custody, and documents about the creation of a “Central Database” and “Matching Table” used to reunited families. DHS has yet to respond to these requests.