A new federal report said the Trump administration probably separated thousands more migrant children from their parents at the U.S. border than has been made public, but federal efforts to track those children have been so poor that the actual number is unknown, the Washington Post reports. The inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services says no one systematically kept count of separated children until a lawsuit was filed last spring over the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, under which the government tried to criminally prosecute all parents who crossed the border illegally, taking their children from them in the process.
As a result of the suit, the government identified about 2,700 separated children in federal custody as of June, some of them infants and toddlers. Health and Human Services officials say there was a sharp spike in separated children starting nearly a year earlier, shortly after President Trump took office. Investigators now say thousands more children were taken from their parents or other guardians by agents during that time and later released. The report said that estimate was based on “informal tracking” by HHS. The government has begun tracking separated children more closely. An additional 118 children were taken from their parents from July to November, in most cases because the adults had criminal histories or other issues. Previous administrations also separated minors at the border in some instances, but the report said the practice appears far more common under Trump and began nearly a year before officials publicly acknowledged it. Separated children accounted for 0.3 percent of unaccompanied minors taken into HHS custody in late 2016. By August 2017, the percentage had increased more than tenfold, to 3.6 percent.