A startling pair of statistics are tucked into the opening “Executive Summary” section of the House Oversight Committee’s new report on child separation at the U.S.-Mexico border. First, the report specifies that:
the Committee has now obtained new information about at least 2,648 children who were separated from their parents by the Trump Administration. Many of these children were brought by their parents to the United States to seek refuge from violence in Central America and elsewhere and to seek asylum under U.S. law. This list largely covers children who were separated after the Administration initiated its “zero tolerance policy” in April 2018 and were still in custody as of June 26, 2018.
Immediately following, the report notes:
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.
In other words, no children who were separated from their family before or after a three-month period last year were accounted for in the data—and still, 2,648 children were.
The large number of children found to have been separated, juxtaposed with the short period of time covered in the report, illustrates the magnitude of the calamity at the border last year—or perhaps more accurately, just begins to illustrate it. The rest of the report, which was commissioned by Committee Chair Elijah Cummings and released yesterday, reveals new details about the situation at the border. The findings are based on records the committee obtained by subpoena.
- At least 18 children under 2 were taken from their parents from the start of April 2018 to the end of June 2018 and kept apart for durations of 20 days to six months. Some of the 32-page report’s most astonishing descriptions come from its passages on the babies and toddlers detained separately from their parents. One baby mentioned in the findings was only eight months old when he was taken from his father at the border; the father was deported just two months later, but the baby was held in Arizona for six months. “At the time of his release, the baby had spent nearly half of his life without his parents, in the custody of the Trump Administration,” the report reads. “It is unclear whether the child and father have been reunited.” Another child, a 19-month-old toddler from Honduras, spent five and a half months in foster care in New York while his father bounced between detention facilities and was eventually released. Again, the report states, “it is unclear whether the child and father have been reunited.”
- Hundreds of separated children were detained in Border Patrol facilities for longer than the 72 hours the law allows. Under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, border authorities must transfer minors to an Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) facility within 72 hours of detainment. More than 25 percent of the children included in the report, however, remained in the custody of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for more than 72 hours before being transferred. The report states that “some children spent up to a week in CBP detention facilities at the border before being sent to an ORR facility designed to house children.”
- Some separated children spent time in a “tent city” known to have substandard conditions. At least 10 children, the committee found, spent time at the Tornillo tent city in Texas, the “notorious emergency influx facility near El Paso” that closed in January. In November, the Department of Health and Human Services inspector general found that the Tornillo facility had failed to conduct background checks on its staff and did not employ enough staff clinicians to adequately meet the mental-health needs of the children and teenagers held there. The Tornillo emergency facility was intended to house minors who had crossed the border illegally without a guardian, but some of the separated children in the Oversight Committee’s report were found to have spent a month or more at Tornillo.
- At least 30 children who were separated from their parents more than a year ago “still have not been reunited with a parent or released to a sponsor.” Perhaps the most haunting detail of the Oversight Committee’s report comes at the tail end of its findings. “More than a year ago, on June 26, 2018, the federal court handling the Ms. L litigation ordered the Trump Administration to terminate its zero tolerance policy and reunite children separated pursuant to that policy. The court ordered the reunification of children under five by July 11, 2018, and of children ages 5 to 17 by July 26, 2018,” the report reads. “However, as of July 2019, approximately 30 children separated from their parents more than a year ago under the zero tolerance policy still have not been reunited with a parent or released to a sponsor.” That count includes some children who cannot be reunited with their parents either because of concerns about the parents’ well-being or because the parents left the country and “indicated an intent not to reunify.” The report mentions that two Guatemalan boys who were detained and separated from their fathers at the Arizona border in May 2018, when they were 8 and 13, were still in custody in May of this year. Their fathers had been deported last summer. In both cases, records provided to the committee “do not indicate what steps the Administration has taken” to reunite the relatives.
The White House, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and Cummings did not respond to requests for comment.