WASHINGTON (CN) — Even as a caravan of Central American migrants has become a rallying point for conservative voters, an audit released Wednesday shows that federal agencies remain dazed from the zero-tolerance policy on immigration that the Trump administration rolled out in April.
“DHS and HHS officials told us that the agencies did not take specific planning steps because they did not have advance notice,” says the report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, using abbreviations for the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services.
Like the public, according to the report, both agencies found out about the “zero tolerance” policy when Attorney General Jeff Sessions released a memo announcing it.
A critical and controversial provision of the policy was to separate children from their parents at the border, but investigators found that officials lacked the planning and systems to keep track of and care for these minors.
“Prior to April 2018, DHS and HHS did not have a consistent way to indicate in their data systems children and parents separated at the border,” the report states.
Indeed it was only after the Sessions memo was released that U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Office of Refugee Resettlement updated their databases to allow them to indicate child separation.
“It is too soon to know the extent to which these changes, if fully implemented, will consistently indicate when children have been separated from their parents, or will help reunify families, if appropriate,” the report states.
By the time a federal judge barred such separations in late June, officials and staff at the Office of Refugee Resettlement shelters told investigators that they faced numerous challenges to reunify these thousands of families.
From arranging communication between parent and child to coordinating transportation, the office finally approved the reunification procedures for the 2,654 children in its custody by the end of July.
The American Civil Liberties Union meanwhile estimated earlier this month that about 250 children remain in government custody.
“The gross failures detailed in this report will be long remembered, but hopefully never repeated,” Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., who requested the GAO investigation, said in a statement.
President Donald Trump on the other hand has not backed down on his anti-immigrant stance in the lead-up to 2018 midterm elections.
“We are a great Sovereign Nation,” he tweeted this morning. “We have Strong Borders and will never accept people coming into our Country illegally.”
Two days prior Trump tweeted that he had alerted “Border Patrol and Military that this is a National [Emergency].”
Homeland Security spokeswoman Katie Waldman maintained Wednesday that the Trump administration is dutifully executing the laws passed by Congress.
“Unfortunately, the number of families crossing the southwest border illegally is increasing,” Waldman said in a statement. “This means that there may be a proportional increase in cases where adults are separated from children due to concerns about parentage or the adult’s criminal history. Indeed, DHS has seen a 75 percent increase in family unit apprehensions from FY 16 to this past month. DHS also saw a 315 percent in fraudulent family units trying to cross the border. These statistics reinforce why the Trump administration’s adherence to the rule of law is so critical to protecting the American people.”
Representatives from HHS did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.