Inspector General’s Office Reveals Trump Administration Wrongly Kept Hundreds of Migrant Children in U.S. After Parents Were Deported

AP Photo/Julio Cortez

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials deported at least 348 migrant parents without their children under the Trump administration according to the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of the Inspector General. The report indicates that ICE refused to let these children whom it had separated from their parents to return to their home countries with their family.

The report says that “before July 12, 2018, migrant parents did not consistently have the opportunity to reunify with their children before removal” and that “although DHS and ICE have claimed that parents removed without their children chose to leave them behind, there was no policy or standard process requiring ICE officers to ascertain, document, or honor parents’ decisions regarding their children.”

The inspector general continued:

As a result, from the time the Government began increasing criminal prosecutions in July 2017, ICE removed at least 348 parents separated from their children without documenting that those parents wanted to leave their children in the United States. In fact, ICEE removed some parents without their children despite having evidence the parents wanted to bring their children back to their home country.

The report explained that starting in July 2017, the Trump administration implemented a policy that would criminally prosecute every adult migrant who entered the country illegally. Historically, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) would place illegals apprehended at the border into civil immigration proceedings. “Because minor children could not be held in criminal custody with their parents, CBP separated the parents and children, and transferred the children to the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR),” according to the inspector general.

Then-DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and other high-ranking officials erroneously claimed that migrants facing deportation had not wanted to take their children with them. “Every parent had the choice to bring the child back with them when they were removed. The ones who did not bring the children with them made the choice not to have the child accompany them,” she said during a 2018 congressional hearing. However, the inspector general found that this was not true in many instances.

“ICE records reflect that in some cases, parents told ICE officers they wanted their children to accompany them back to their home country — but ICE nevertheless removed the parents without reunifying them, leaving their children in the United States,” the report explains. “Therefore, at least some of ICE’s removals of parents without their children were intentional, and not just inadvertent incidents resulting from human error or inaccurate records.”

The inspector general also notes that on June 20, 2018, former President Donald Trump issued an executive order that “ended the Government’s practice of separating most families apprehended at the border, stating that it was the Administration’s policy to detain migrant families together unless child welfare concerns outweighed maintaining family unity.”

The document explains that “ICE policy did not include clear guidance or a prescribed procedure for parents to elect or waive reunification with their children prior to removal” and that the agency “did not have clear guidance to include any prescribed process or procedure requiring officers to ascertain, document, or honor parents’ decisions as to whether to leave their children in the United States when they were removed.”

A closer look at the inspector general’s report indicates that ICE was deported parents without their children more often during the earlier part of the “zero tolerance” period. Later in this timeframe, the agency had fewer inconsistencies and provided migrant parents with opportunities to clearly state whether they wished to take their children with them when they were deported.

It does not seem that these inconsistencies in how ICE handled these deportations were the result of malice. Rather, it appears that officials did not competently handle these cases in a way that would ensure the parents’ wishes were being honored.

The United States should be protecting its borders – that is a fact with which most Americans can disagree. However, when it is time to deport some of these individuals, the country does not have the right to keep their children without the express consent of the parents. Indeed, some might argue that the children should remain with their parents regardless of their desires instead of allowing them to remain in the U.S.

While most of the Trump administration’s immigration policies made sense, in this particular area, it failed. No program is perfect – the “Remain in Mexico” policy had some issues, but it was still a more workable solution than the “Catch and Release” policy that President Biden has reinstated. However, removing immigrants while keeping their children was a horrible – and avoidable – error and should never be repeated regardless of which party occupies the Oval Office.