Report: Administration’s Child Separation Policy More Harmful, Traumatic, and Chaotic Than Previously Known

Washington, D.C. (July 12, 2019)—Today, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the Chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, released a staff report summarizing data obtained in response to subpoenas the Committee issued regarding the Trump Administration’s child separation policy.  The staff report states:

“The information obtained by the Committee indicates that the Trump Administration’s decision to separate thousands of babies, toddlers, and children from their parents and put them in government custody for months or years is causing immense suffering.  This staff report provides numerous case studies that illustrate their trauma in stark terms.  These child separations were not required by law and were not in the best interest of the children.  Instead, the policy of separating children from their parents appears to be a deliberate, unnecessary, and cruel choice by President Trump and his Administration.”

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On February 26, 2019, the Committee voted on a bipartisan basis to authorize subpoenas to compel the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to produce documents relating to the Trump Administration’s child separation policy.

Based on the new information obtained by the Committee, the staff report includes the following preliminary findings, which may be updated as more information is obtained:

  • The Trump Administration’s child separations were more harmful, traumatic, and chaotic than previously known.
  • At least 18 infants and toddlers under two years old were taken away from their parents at the border and kept apart for 20 days to half a year.
  • At least 241 separated children were kept in Border Patrol facilities longer than the 72 hours permitted by law.
  • Many separated children were kept in government custody far longer than previously known—at least 679 were held for 46 to 75 days, more than 50 were held for six months to a year, and more than 25 were held for more than a year.
  • Even after being reunited with their parents, hundreds of separated children continued to be detained for months in family detention facilities—far longer than the 20-day limit under the Flores case.
  • More than 400 children were moved to multiple CBP facilities, more than 80 children were moved to multiple ORR facilities, and at least five children were moved to multiple ICE facilities—including to one, Port Isabel, after the Administration claimed that “no children will be housed at the facility … even for short periods.”
  • At least ten separated children were sent to the “tent city” in Tornillo, Texas, the notorious emergency influx facility near El Paso, before the CEO of the facility’s parent company refused to continue operations as a result of the Administration’s pressure to expand capacity despite delays in releasing children.
  • The Trump Administration has not been candid with the American people about its purpose in separating children.  The records obtained by the Committee indicate that the Trump Administration separated children unnecessarily—even under its own rationale—causing lengthy delays to reunifications and separations that continue to this day.  The Administration claimed that separating children was necessary to criminally prosecute parents.  But the documents describe parents who were never sent to federal criminal custody, as well as others who were briefly taken into custody and then returned within a day or two likely because prosecutors declined to prosecute their cases or because they were sentenced to time served for the misdemeanor of illegal entry.  In some cases, parents were readmitted to the same facilities they left just hours before, but their children had already been removed.  These parents were then sent to separate detention facilities and in some cases deported without their children.
  • The nightmare of child separations continues.  Hundreds of additional children have been separated from their parents since the end of the Administration’s zero tolerance policy in June 2018.  These continued unnecessary separations have contributed to the current crisis of children suffering in overcrowded, poorly-run government detention facilities at the border.  In addition, at least 30 children separated from their parents under the zero tolerance policy remain separated, despite a federal court order more than a year ago to reunite these children with their families or an appropriate sponsor.

The staff report also explains that the information obtained by the Committee is incomplete:

“In many respects, it is woefully inadequate in terms of the volume of information produced and the number of separated children who remain unaccounted for, and the Committee will continue to press for additional information. … This data does not include information about thousands of additional children who may have been separated prior to April 2018, information about children who were reunited with their parents prior to June 2018, or information about more than 700 additional children who have been separated by the Administration since June 2018.”

Click here to read today’s staff report.