Oct. 3 (UPI) — The Department of Homeland Security was not ready to carry out the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy for immigrants who illegally crossed the U.S.-Mexico border, a DHS Inspector General report released Tuesday indicates.
Before the zero-tolerance policy took effect in the spring, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection usually transferred immigrants who had been caught to immigration proceedings rather than criminal prosecution, unless familial status could not be determined or an immigrant had a criminal record.
But the zero-tolerance policy required all undocumented immigrants to be prosecuted before their deportation status was decided, which resulted in controversial family separations and a further strain in an immigration court system that was already backlogged.
“DHS was not fully prepared to implement the administration’s zero-tolerance policy or to deal with some of its after-effects,” the report stated. “Faced with resource limitations and other challenges, DHS regulated the number of asylum-seekers entering the country through ports of entry at the same time that it encouraged asylum-seekers to come to the ports.”
The report went on to state that the CBP held immigrant children separated from their parents for “extended periods in facilities intended solely for short-term detention.”
There was a lack of sufficient technology to identify, track and reunite separated families, the IG said. That technological gap not only hindered family reunification efforts, but made it difficult for DHS to compile accurate data, which raised concerns about the accuracy of the agency’s reporting, according to the report.
“Finally, DHS provided inconsistent information to aliens who arrived with children during zero tolerance, which resulted in some parents not understanding that they would be separated from their children, and being unable to communicate with their children after separation,” the report said.
Statistics cited in the report showed that 18 percent of children apprehended at the border were detained in short-term facilities for more than five days, despite the facilities being designed for stays of no more than 72 hours. In some instances, children were held for up to 25 days.
Other observations from the report included Border Patrol officers complaining about the increased prosecutions making it more difficult to screen possible fraudulent claims of parentage; a lack of DNA testing to determine parentage; poor identification processing of children, such as taking photos and fingerprints to ensure parental connection; and family separations when they weren’t necessary, even under the zero-tolerance policy.