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Watchdog: More asylum seeking families separated at ports of entry than previously indicated

The Homeland Security Department Inspector General said that there were at least 60 family separations between May-June 2018

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DHS logo on a vehicle in San Francisco in February 2019
DHS logo on a vehicle in San Francisco in February 2019
(Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)
Updated: June 2, 2020 - 6:52pm

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From May 2018 and June 2018, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Field Operations workers separated many more asylum seeking families at ports of entry than previously reported, according to a U.S. Department of Homeland Security watchdog report.

The DHS Office of the Inspector General found at least 60 instances of such separations, compared to the seven instances that the agency had indicated.

"Despite CBP OFO’s claim it had only separated 7 asylum-seeking parents from their children at ports of entry between May 6 and July 9, 2018, we identified at least 60 asylum-seeking families CBP OFO separated at 11 ports of entry between May and June 2018," the watchdog reported.

The inspector general also reported that in many cases the reasons for the family separations differed from the criteria officials had publicly stated could lead to separations.

"We further determined more than half of those separations were based solely on the asylum-seeking parents’ prior non-violent immigration violations," the report explained. 

"Although CBP guidance for family separations at the time was broadly written, separating parents from children based solely on a parent’s prior immigration violation(s) was inconsistent with official DHS public messages about the limited circumstances warranting family separation at ports of entry," the inspector general also said in the report.

Because workers were inconsistent in using a data-entry field to record whether a child was detained separately from a parent, the report noted that "OFO could not provide a reliable number of families separated before June 2018."

As a consequence there could have been additional families separated prior to June 2018 than the number that the inspector general discovered, the report states.