- The Washington Times - Monday, May 24, 2021

A new audit Monday shows parents were deported during former President Trump’s zero-tolerance border policy without having the chance to bring their children with them, even though they wanted to.

The probe by Homeland Security’s inspector general is the latest black eye on the zero-tolerance policy, which saw thousands of parents who showed up at the border from mid-2017 to mid-2018 separated from their children. The separations occurred because the parents were being prosecuted, but the government had no competent way of reuniting the families afterward.

Homeland Security officials had insisted deported parents were given a chance to decide whether to bring their children with them or leave them here to pursue their own immigration cases, but Monday’s audit found at least 348 cases where corners were cut in that process.

And in some cases, it seems the parents indicated they wanted to take their children back with them, but ICE ignored those wishes.

“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 inspector general said.

Investigators uncovered one instance in May 2018 where two mothers and three fathers had been cleared for removal and their consulates had issued travel documents, but an ICE officer said they were asking to be removed with their children.

The officer told the parents that was “not possible.” A supervisor confirmed that understanding.

ICE, in its official response, pointed to its actions in summer 2018, after Mr. Trump’s executive order ending zero tolerance, that improved cooperation and information-sharing.

ICE accepted both of the inspector general’s recommendations for preventing a repeat.

Zero tolerance was an attempt to fight an early surge of illegal immigrant families in the Trump administration. Prosecutions of parents who jumped the border bringing children with them, taking advantage of a “family loophole” in U.S. policy, rose dramatically.

There are no family facilities in federal jails, so authorities said they had to separate the children. Most of the parents were quickly sentenced to time served and released, but by then the children were in custody of Health and Human Services and there was no way to connect most of the parents back with the children, investigators have said.

Hundreds of children are believed to still be separated without consent.

The Biden administration earlier this month reunited four of them and has created a task force to work on the other cases.

Monday’s report dings then-Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen for saying every parent had the choice of what to do about their children. In reality, ICE had a “policy void” on how to handle the cases, the audit concluded.

Things did improve toward the end of zero tolerance, but even then ICE put the burden on parents, according to guidance documents the audit found.

It was only after Mr. Trump curtailed zero tolerance through an executive order, and after a federal judge ordered reunifications, that ICE adopted a formal policy for eliciting parents’ wishes, the audit said.

The Homeland Security inspector general is about to turn his eye toward the Biden administration.

Congressional Republicans revealed Monday the outfit has agreed to audit an $87 million no-bid contract ICE signed with Endeavors Inc., to handle detention and release of migrants being caught as part of the current border surge.

“The decision to award a massive, no-bid contract to the nonprofit Endeavors raised many questions including how an organization with no experience working with ICE could win a non-compete contract,” said Rep. John Katko of New York, the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee.

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