WASHINGTON (CN) – A nonprofit legal watchdog on Friday asked the national archivist to investigate the reported disappearance and destruction of records linking immigrant families separated at the border.
The request was prompted by a July 5 New York Times report, which said that Customs and Border Protection Officials had deleted records with family identification numbers in hundreds of cases, according to two Department of Homeland Security officials who spoke to the Times anonymously.
DHS spokeswoman Katie Waldman denied that the agency had destroyed any such records.
“Not only is it categorically false that DHS destroyed records, but the opposite is true: DHS personnel has worked hand-in-hand with HHS personnel to share clear data in the most useful formats possible for HHS – which included names, dates of apprehension, and identifying alien numbers for both children and parents who were separated as a result of zero-tolerance,” Waldman said in an email, abbreviating Health and Human Services, the agency tasked with overseeing children taken from their parents.
But Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said in its July 6 complaint that DHS and the Department of Health and Human Services should nonetheless be investigated to determine if they violated the Federal Records Act.
“In implementing these policies, federal agencies appear to have blatantly violated the FRA,” the complaint says, abbreviating the Federal Records Act, which requires government records to be preserved.
“Rarely, if ever, has a potential violation of the FRA had such grave implications,” the complaint says. “The reportedly destroyed records bear directly on the lives of thousands of immigrants seeking entry to our country, threatening the permanent separation of parents from their children.”
The Department of Homeland Security is reportedly scrambling to comply with a June 26 federal court order requiring the government to reunite children younger than five with their parents by July 10, and all the others by July 26.
Late Thursday, the government asked for an extension of those court-mandated deadlines to continue DNA testing and ensuring familial relations before reuniting separated families.
It remains unclear how many children have been taken from their parents at the border under the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance immigration policy.
Health and Human Services secretary Alex Azar said Thursday there could be nearly 3,000 separated children in the agency’s custody, including about 100 under the age of five.