Homeland Security Was Warned to Stop Separating Families at the Border Months Before Trump Was Even Elected: Report

Immigration experts had sounded the alarm that "the practice of family separation" should be stopped months before President Donald Trump even took office, new documents reveal.

Documents obtained by the Center for Public Integrity and published in partnership with The Texas Tribune reveal that a child refugee specialist had expressed discomfort with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) Office of Field Operations (OFO) separating migrant children from their parents well ahead of the Trump administration's widely condemned "zero-tolerance" family separation policy.

In an email dated September 20, 2016, James De La Cruz, a senior federal field specialist supervisor within the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement, warned that "the best that could happen is for the OFO to stop the practice of family separation."

De La Cruz's warning was delivered in an email outlining procedures for reunification following the separation of children from their families. Among the procedures listed by the specialist supervisor are processes for "reunifying children with their separated parents if that is possible."

As the Tribune notes, just 10 days after the email was sent, a Homeland Security advisory committee issued a report on the impact family separation has on children.

"Recent evidence suggests that some families are separated and adults detained and placed in expedited removal or reinstatement proceedings while children are sent to the Office of Refugee Resettlement," the report warned.

"Family separation in these circumstances raises serious concerns and violates the best interests of the child–which requires prioritizing family integrity and the maintenance of emotional ties and relationships among family members," it continues.

"The best interests of the child should be paramount in all custody decisions regarding family members apprehended by DHS, including in the custody decisions about adults arriving with their children, and should favor release of the whole family together as soon as possible–even if some family members are undergoing expedited removal or reinstatement procedures," it concludes. "If DHS does detain a family, [the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency] should immediately work to facilitate release as soon as possible."

Despite those early warnings, under the Trump administration, the DHS would go on to oversee widespread family separations under the government's widely-condemned "zero tolerance" policy.

Under the rule, more than 2,500 children were separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, with the government still yet to reunify some of the families affected.

Family separation
Thousands of people march in support of families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border on June 30, 2018 in New York, New York. Spencer Platt/Getty

It also recently came to light that the Trump administration separated families at the border with little plan on how those families would be reunified in the aftermath.

A report issued by the DHS inspector general warned that the DHS was not equipped to properly track or reunify families separated at the border, but went ahead with separating them anyway.

As a result, the DHS funneled more than $1 million in overtime costs into the initiative without even managing to meet the goals of its zero-tolerance policy: to deter migrants from crossing the border outside designated ports of entry.

"Instead, the number of apprehensions continued to rise, and ICE was releasing thousands of detainees into the United States almost immediately," the report concluded.