Family Separation and the Detention of Immigrant Children

The Trump administration established a policy of separating families and detaining children of immigrants arrested while attempting to enter the United States. After strong opposition, the administration claimed to have ended the policy, but children have continued to be detained. American Oversight is investigating to uncover the truth about how the family separation policy was developed and implemented from the top down.

Background

In the spring of 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the United States would adopt a “zero tolerance” policy toward people attempting to enter the country illegally, which included the separation of children from parents.

In April, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen testified to the House Appropriations Committee that the department’s policy was to keep families “together as long as operationally possible” and that “when we separate, we separate because the law tells us to.” Speaking to a group of law enforcement officials the next month, Sessions said, “If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law.”

As of mid-June 2018, the federal government had separated and detained more than 2,000 children, housing many of them in chain-link cages in temporary facilities set up along the border.

DHS detained children who arrived at the border, sometimes for far longer than the 72 hours allowed by law, then transferred the children to the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services, which kept the children in “tent cities,” at least one of which remains operational.

Public outcry led to a June 2018 executive order in which President Trump officially ended the family-separation policy and instructed DHS to house children with their parents in existing facilities. But news reports indicate that children are still being separated from their parents, and the indefinite detention of minors would violate the 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement, which limits how long immigrant children can be detained. In January 2019, the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services found that a steep increase in the number of separated children referred to the department’s Office of Refugee Resettlement had increased significantly as early as the summer of 2017 — well before the announcement of the zero-tolerance policy.

American Oversight is seeking a broad range of records from the key agencies involved in the Trump administration’s policy of separating and detaining children of immigrants arrested at the border, from information about detention facility conditions to communications with Congress and information about the costs of implementing the policy.

What We’re Seeking

  • Records from nine agencies, including DOJ, HHS, and the Office of Management and Budget, about the full costs of the family-separation policy and where the funds came from, and communications between agencies and Congress about such funding
  • HHS records related to DNA testing to reunite parents and children
  • HHS Administration for Children and Families records regarding detention facility conditions and complaints of abuse
  • Records from multiple agencies to determine if Nielsen deliberately misled Congress in her April 2018 testimony about the family separation policy
  • Records from DHS, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) regarding the implementation of the “zero tolerance” policy, including memos sent to local field offices, as well as any communications with anti-immigrant groups or activists
  • Records from CBP regarding family separations at the San Ysidro and Hidalgo ports of entry
  • Records of multiple agencies’ communications with private prison companies and contractors that have been involved in detaining separated children

Related Documents

March 25, 2019

FOIA to HHS Seeking Records Regarding Warnings About the Harmful Impact of Family Separation on Children

Department of Health and Human Services
FOIA Request
March 25, 2019

FOIA to DHS Seeking Records Regarding Warnings About the Harmful Impact of Family Separation on Children

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
March 25, 2019

FOIA to DHS for Analysis of Psychological Effects of Family Separation on Children

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
February 8, 2019

No Records Response from DOD Regarding White House Use of Force Authorization for ‘Caravan’

Department of Defense
Agency Reply
February 8, 2019

No Records Response from Department of Defense Regarding Use of Force Policy and Surveillance Technology for ‘Caravan’

Department of Defense
Agency Reply
February 7, 2019

No Records Response from Department of Defense Regarding Talking Points for Secretary Mattis

Department of Defense
Agency Reply
December 18, 2018

FOIA to DHS Seeking Talking Points Regarding the Migrant Caravan

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
December 18, 2018

FOIA to Multiple Agencies Seeking Communications with Search Terms Related to the Migrant Caravan

Administration for Children and Families, Citizenship and Immigration Services, Customs and Border Protection, Department of Defense, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of State, Department of the Air Force, Department of the Army, U.S. Marshals Service
FOIA Request
December 18, 2018

FOIA to Multiple Agencies Seeking Communications Regarding the So-Called Migrant Caravan

Citizenship and Immigration Services, Customs and Border Protection, Department of Defense, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of the Air Force, Department of the Army, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Marshals Service
FOIA Request
December 18, 2018

FOIA to DOD seeking Secretary Mattis’ Talking Points Regarding the So-Called Migrant Caravan

Department of Defense
FOIA Request
December 18, 2018

FOIA to HHS Seeking Secretary Azar’s Talking Points Regarding the So-Called Migrant Caravan

Department of Health and Human Services
FOIA Request
December 18, 2018

FOIA to State Seeking Secretary Pompeo’s Talking Points Regarding the Migrant Caravan

Department of State
FOIA Request
December 18, 2018

FOIA to USMS Seeking Talking Points Regarding the Migrant Caravan

US Marshals Service
FOIA Request
December 18, 2018

FOIA to DHS Seeking Notes From a White Housing Meeting Regarding the Migrant Caravan

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
December 18, 2018

FOIA to DOD Seeking Notes From a White Housing Meeting Regarding the Migrant Caravan

Department of Defense
FOIA Request
December 18, 2018

FOIA to DOD Seeking Records Related to Use of Tear Gas at the Border

Department of Defense
FOIA Request
December 18, 2018

FOIA to DHS/ICE Seeking Records Related to Facial Recognition Technology and the Migrant Caravan

Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement
FOIA Request
December 18, 2018

FOIA to DHS Regarding Memo Authorizing Force at the Border

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
December 18, 2018

FOIA to DOD Regarding Memo Authorizing Force at the Border

Department of Defense
FOIA Request
December 18, 2018

FOIA to USMS Seeking Guidance on Interactions with Private Militia

US Marshals Service
FOIA Request
December 18, 2018

FOIA to DOJ Regarding Use of Force at the Border

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
December 18, 2018

FOIA to USMS Seeking Records Related to Use of Tear Gas at the Border

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
December 18, 2018

FOIA to DOD Regarding the Name “Operation Faithful Patriot”

Department of Defense
FOIA Request
December 18, 2018

FOIA to DOD/National Guard Seeking Guidance on Interactions with Private Militia

Department of Defense
FOIA Request
December 18, 2018

FOIA to CBP Seeking Communications with San Ysidro Directors

Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
December 18, 2018

FOIA to DHS Seeking Guidance on Force at the Border

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
December 18, 2018

FOIA to DOD Seeking Guidance on Force at the Border

Department of Defense
FOIA Request
December 4, 2018

Complaint: American Oversight v. DHS – Family Separation Policy Communications

Citizenship and Immigration Services, Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Litigation
December 4, 2018

Complaint: American Oversight v. DOJ – Family Separation Policy Communications

Department of Justice
Litigation
December 4, 2018

Complaint: American Oversight v. Multiple Entities – Sessions Memo Communications

Citizenship and Immigration Services, Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Litigation
November 16, 2018

FOIA to HHS Seeking Communications Containing the Term Matching Table

Department of Health and Human Services
FOIA Request
November 16, 2018

FOIA to HHS Seeking Records Related to a Database to Track Separated Children

Department of Health and Human Services
FOIA Request
October 31, 2018

No Records Response from ICE regarding guidance for implementing DOJ’s Zero Tolerance Immigration Policy

Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Agency Reply
October 19, 2018

No Records Response From EOIR On Family Separation Costs

Executive Office for Immigration Review
Agency Reply
October 18, 2018

FOIA to CBP Seeking Records Related to the Migration Crisis Action Team

Customs and Border Protection
FOIA Request
October 18, 2018

FOIA to CBP Seeking Migration Crisis Action Team Communications

Customs and Border Protection
FOIA Request
October 18, 2018

FOIA to HHS and ACF Regarding DNA Testing to Reunite Families

Administration for Children and Families, Department of Health and Human Services
FOIA Request
October 18, 2018

FOIA to DHS Seeking Communications with Outside Anti-Immigrant Groups Containing Terms Related to Family Separation

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
October 18, 2018

FOIA to DOJ Seeking Communications with Outside Anti-Immigrant Groups Containing Terms Related to Family Separation

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
October 18, 2018

FOIA to HHS Office of the Inspector General Regarding Reports of Abuse at a Virginia Detention Center for Unaccompanied Minors

Department of Health and Human Services
FOIA Request
October 18, 2018

FOIA to CBP Seeking Records from the Central Processing Station in McAllen, Texas

FOIA Request
October 18, 2018

No Records Response from DHS on Costs of Family Separation Policy

Department of Homeland Security
Agency Reply
October 17, 2018

FOIA to the Peace Corps Seeking Steve Dillingham Communications with Outside Entities

Peace Corps
FOIA Request
October 12, 2018

FOIA to DOJ Seeking Communications Regarding Funds for DOJ’s Family Separation Policy

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
October 4, 2018

No Records Response from DOL Regarding Ballard Partners

Department of Labor
Agency Reply
October 2, 2018

FOIA to Multiple Entities Seeking Records Related to the Funding of the Administration’s Family Separation Policy

Administration for Children and Families, Citizenship and Immigration Services, Customs and Border Protection, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Office of Management and Budget, Office of the General Counsel, U.S. Marshals Service
FOIA Request
October 2, 2018

FOIA to Multiple Entities Seeking Records Related to the Administration’s Family Separation Policy

Administration for Children and Families, Citizenship and Immigration Services, Customs and Border Protection, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Office for Immigration Review, Office of Management and Budget, U.S. Marshals Service
FOIA Request
September 7, 2018

DOJ Records on Legality of the Family Separation Executive Order

Department of Justice
Agency Record
August 13, 2018

FOIA to DOL Seeking Communications with Ballard Partners

Department of Labor
FOIA Request
August 13, 2018

FOIA to DOJ Regarding Ballard Partners and Bradley Arant Boult Cummings

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
August 13, 2018

FOIA to DHS/USCIS Seeking Communications with Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP

Citizenship and Immigration Services
FOIA Request
August 13, 2018

FOIA to ICE Seeking Communications with Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP

Immigration and Customs Enforcement
FOIA Request
August 13, 2018

FOIA to CBP Seeking Communications with Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP

Customs and Border Protection
FOIA Request
August 13, 2018

FOIA to DHS Seeking Communications with Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
June 20, 2018

FOIA to DOJ Seeking Records of Legal Advice Regarding Family Separation Executive Order

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
June 20, 2018

FOIA to DOJ Seeking Form and Legality Memo for Family Separation Executive Order

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
June 20, 2018

FOIA to ACF Seeking Emails about Sen. Merkley Visit to Detention Facility

Department of Health and Human Services
FOIA Request
June 20, 2018

FOIA to ACF Seeking Capacity Update Report Spreadsheets

Department of Health and Human Services
FOIA Request
June 20, 2018

FOIA to ACF Seeking Emails Regarding DHS Secretary Nielsen’s Testimony About Family Separation

Department of Health and Human Services
FOIA Request
June 20, 2018

FOIA to DOJ Seeking Communications with Anti-Immigration Groups about Family Separation

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
June 20, 2018

FOIA to DOJ Seeking Communications About Family Separation Policy

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
June 20, 2018

FOIA to DOJ Seeking Emails Regarding DHS Secretary Nielsen’s Testimony About Family Separation

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
June 20, 2018

FOIA to CBP Seeking Communications About Family Separations at San Ysidro and Hidalgo Ports of Entry

Customs and Border Protection
FOIA Request
June 20, 2018

FOIA to DHS, ICE, CBP and USCIS Seeking Communications with Anti-Immigration Groups about Family Separation

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
June 20, 2018

FOIA to DHS, ICE, CBP and USCIS Seeking Communications Regarding Family Separation or Sen. Merkley Visit to Detention Facility

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
June 20, 2018

FOIA to DHS, ICE, CBP and USCIS Seeking Emails Regarding Zero Tolerance Policy and Family Separation

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
June 20, 2018

FOIA to CBP and ICE Seeking Guidance on Implementation of Zero Tolerance Policy

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
June 20, 2018

FOIA to DHS, ICE, CBP and USCIS Seeking Emails Regarding DHS Secretary Nielsen’s Testimony About Family Separation

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
June 20, 2018

FOIA to DHS Seeking Communications of Secretary Nielsen or Senior Officials Regarding Testimony about Family Separation

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request