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Pallone Releases GAO Report on Trump Administration’s Family Separation Policy

October 24, 2018
Press Release
Independent Report Reveals Startling Failure by the Trump Administration to Prepare for Influx of Separated Children and to Properly Coordinate the Reunification of Families

Washington, D.C. – Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) released a troubling new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report today detailing the Trump Administration’s haphazard efforts to reunify families separated at the border due to the so-called “zero tolerance” policy.

In June, Pallone requested a GAO audit of the Trump Administration’s ability to track and reunite the separated children with their families. The independent government report unveils an alarming lack of internal coordination prior to implementing the “zero-tolerance” policy, throughout the duration of the family separation crisis, and in the weeks following the court orders to reunite the separated families. 

“This disturbing GAO report shows the tragic consequences of carrying out a cruel and misguided policy impacting thousands of families without any preparation or prior notification to the agencies charged with implementing it,” Pallone said.

“The report details the Administration’s chaotic attempts to comply with court orders to reunify children with their parents. It took the Trump Administration far too long to develop a process to identify and reunite these families, and even then, it was not consistently followed. As a result, families that should have never been separated in the first place were cruelly kept apart much longer. The gross failures detailed in this report will be long remembered, but hopefully never repeated,” Pallone concluded.

The GAO report cites a number of troubling findings, including:

  • Officials from the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Homeland Security (DHS) were not aware of the “zero tolerance” policy until it was publicly announced (Pg. 12). 
  • Even though officials at HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) noticed an increase in the number of children being placed in their custody several months before the April 2018 “zero tolerance” policy, HHS leadership told them not to prepare for an increased number of children separated from their families because DHS officials claimed they did not have an official policy of separating parents and children (Pg. 14).
  • HHS and DHS did not have a consistent way to determine whether a child had been separated from a parent until July 6, which was 16 days after the President’s Executive Order ending the “zero tolerance” policy and 10 days after a federal court halted the policy (Pg. 18). Even after a consistent policy was put in place it was not always used (Pgs. 18-19).
  • GAO found that in some cases, DHS did not notify ORR shelter staff that a child had been separated from his or her parents. One ORR shelter reported that for some of the separated children in its care, they only learned the child was separated when the child told them (Pg. 19).
  • The reunification process and procedures employed by HHS and ORR continually changed. For example, GAO reported that “staff at one shelter told us there were times when she would be following one [reunification] process in the morning but a different one in the afternoon” (Pg. 27).
  • ORR shelter staff told GAO “it was difficult contacting [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)] detention centers and reaching the detained parents, especially when trying to establish the first contact.” (Pg. 28)
  • ICE officials terminated phone calls between separated parents and children when ORR field staff attempted to inquire about parentage and other interview questions (Pg. 29).
  • Reunification efforts were uneven and ineffective. “HHS officials said there were challenges related to the transport and physical reunification of families, including children having to wait for parents for unreasonably long amounts of time and parents transported to wrong facilities.” (Pg. 29)

The GAO Report is available HERE.