Washington, Oct. 26, 2018 — The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen violated the Federal Records Act (FRA) by failing to create records linking immigrant children to their parents and failing to establish an adequate agency-wide records management program, according to a lawsuit filed today by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).
According to the suit, DHS failed to make and preserve adequate documentation of thousands of children and parents taken into its custody, and, consequently, has been unable to reunify each of the families it separated. DHS also falsely represented to the public its ability to track the thousands of parents and children harmed by its Zero Tolerance Policy. Equally troubling is the revelation, recently made by a former DHS official, 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.
“The Trump Administration’s haphazard implementation of the Zero Tolerance Policy paired with DHS’s failure to meet basic record-keeping requirements mandated by federal law has had catastrophic consequences on the lives of thousands of immigrants seeking entry to our country, even threatening the permanent separation of children from their parents,” said CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder. “Rarely, if ever, has an agency’s violation of its statutory recordkeeping obligations had such grave implications. With the administration considering reinstating a new form of their failed policy, it is crucial that they be compelled to follow the law, which makes this lawsuit even more urgent.”
Following a complaint from CREW, the National Archives and Records Administration opened an investigation into DHS’s apparent violation of the FRA. Earlier this month, CREW filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests 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.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is a nonprofit legal watchdog group dedicated to holding public officials accountable for their actions. For more information, please visit www.citizensforethics.org