HHS admits miscount left migrant children stranded in custody And Makes Excuses
The Trump administration failed to include at least 14 migrant children in its count of minors whom officials separated from their families at the border, which has left the overlooked children in HHS custody for months, the administration told a federal court late Thursday night.
The revelation was contained in a filing in which administration officials acknowledged that their previous count of 2,654 separated children was inaccurate, and raising it to 2,668.
The HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement “recently completed another review of case management records to ensure that its categorizations of certain children in ORR care remain accurate,” the filing states. “Defendants will further adjust their categorizations of children to the extent it becomes appropriate.”
The discrepancy stemmed from the haphazard way that the Trump administration tracked migrant families after it imposed the “zero-tolerance” strategy that led to separations at the border. Neither Homeland Security nor HHS was prepared to implement the policy, government investigators reported this week. Border Patrol agents also did not track families consistently as they were separated and as children were remanded into HHS custody.
A Homeland Security internal watchdog report also suggested that the department’s data were unreliable.
Following a June 26 court order to promptly reunite thousands of separated families, the two agencies undertook their own reviews to understand the scope of the problem but arrived at different counts. An official with knowledge of the process told POLITICO that Scott Lloyd, ORR’s controversial director, made the decision to go with the lower number. HHS leaders are currently reviewing Lloyd’s oversight of the refugee office.
The agency has repeatedly declined comment on Lloyd’s decisions around the migrant crisis and whether his job is in jeopardy.
The ACLU’s top immigration lawyer, who is part of a team suing HHS over its handling of migrant family separations, said the latest revelation is part of an established pattern.
“Given the lack of any real plan or system to keep track of families, it is not surprising that the original numbers were inaccurate,” said ACLU’s Lee Gelernt.
Advocates at Equity Forward, an agency watchdog focused on reproductive health, on Friday launched a new digital ad campaign calling on HHS Secretary Alex Azar to fire Lloyd. The campaign, which the group said cost “five digits” and is focused on digital device users in Washington, D.C., was commissioned before the latest report.
“This ad campaign is to ensure Azar knows we are not letting this slide by,” said Mary Alice Carter, Equity Forward’s executive director. “The headlines are not at the peak they were in the summer, and we want to see the public redirecting their attention to this.”
Meanwhile, the Trump administration said in its court filing that it was working to reunite 47 separated children with their parents or other appropriate sponsors. More than 200 other children still in HHS custody have complications preventing their family reunifications, such as a parent that HHS has deemed to be “unfit” and a possible danger to the child.
Of the 14 separated children newly identified by the administration, seven have parents with criminal histories, according to the court filing, which further complicates efforts to reunite the families.
The Trump administration said it remains “on track to complete all reunifications consistent with the expectations” laid down by U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw, who is overseeing the case.