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.
En Español: Separación Familiar y la Detención de los Niños Inmigrantes

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. In January 2019, the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services found that the number of separated children who were 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. In April 2019, the government admitted in court documents that the process to reunite families could take up to two years. Meanwhile, news reports indicated that children were still being separated from their parents in 2019. The indefinite detention of minors violates the 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement, which limits how long immigrant children can be detained.

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, including photographs from processing centers;
  • Records from multiple agencies to determine if former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen 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; and
  • Reports from CBP produced by the Migration Crisis Action Team as well as records of analysis from DHS regarding the psychological effects of family separation on children. 

El Contexto

En la primavera de 2018, el Fiscal General Jeff Sessions anunció que los Estados Unidos adoptaría una política de tolerancia cero para personas que tratan de entrar al país ilegalmente, cuya política incluye la separación de niños de sus padres. 

En abril, la Secretaría de Seguridad Nacional Kirstjen Nielsen testificó frente el Comité de Asignaciones de la Cámara de Representantes que la política del departamento era mantener a familias “unidas hasta ser lo más posiblemente operativo,” y “cuando separamos, separamos porque la ley nos indica a separar.” Hablando el próximo mes con un grupo de oficiales de orden público, Sessions dijó, “Si estás traficando un niño, te aplicaremos todo el peso de la ley y el niño será separado de ti de acuerdo con la ley.”

A mediados de junio de 2018, el gobierno federal había separado y detenido más de 2,000 niños, albergando muchos de ellos en jaulas de alambre en facilidades a lo largo de la frontera. 

DHS detuvo a niños que llegaron a la frontera, algunas veces por más de las 72 horas permitidas por ley, y después fueron trasladados a la custodia del Departamento de Salud y Servicios Sociales, quien mantuvo a los niños en “ciudades de carpas.”

Las protestas públicas resultan en una orden ejecutiva en junio de 2018 en la que Presidente Trump oficialmente terminó la política de separación familiar e instruye a DHS a albergar a los niños con sus padres en facilidades existentes. En enero de 2019, el general inspector del Departamento de Salud y Servicios Sociales encontró que el número de niños separados quien han remitido a la Oficina de Reasentamiento de Refugiados ha subido considerablemente desde el verano de 2017 — mucho antes del anuncio de la política de cero tolerancia. En abril 2019, el gobierno confesó en documentos legales que el proceso para reunificar familias puede demorar hasta dos años. Mientras tanto los informes de noticias indican que los niños todavía están siendo separados de sus padres en 2019. La detención indefinida de menores viola el 1997 Acuerdo Judicial Flores, que limita cuánto tiempo los niños de inmigrantes pueden ser detenidos. 

American Oversight está buscando una amplia gama de archivos de las agencias claves que están involucradas en la política de la separación y detención de los niños de inmigrantes detenidos en la frontera, incluyendo información sobre las condiciones en los centros de detención, comunicaciones con el Congreso, e información sobre los costos de la implementación de esta política. 

Lo Que Buscamos

  • Archivos de nueve agencias, incluso DOJ, HHS, y la Oficina de Administración y Presupuesto, sobre los costos totales de la política de separación familiar, y de donde vinieron los fondos, y comunicaciones entre las agencias y el Congreso sobre los fondos.
  • Archivos de HHS relacionados con las pruebas de ADN para reunir padres y niños.
  • Archivos de la Administración de Niños y Familias de HHS sobre condiciones en los centros de detención y quejas de abuso. 
  • Archivos de varias agencias para determinar si Nielsen engañó al Congreso deliberadamente en su testimonio en abril de 2018 sobre la política de separación familiar.
  • Archivos de DHS, CBP, ICE, y USCIS sobre la implementación de la política de “cero tolerancia,” incluso notas enviadas a oficinas locales y comunicaciones con grupos e activistas en contra de inmigrantes. 
  • Archivos de CBP con respeto a separaciones familiares en los puertos de entrada de San Ysidro y Hidalgo.
  • Archivos de varias agencias de comunicaciones entre las empresas de prisiones privadas y contratistas que has estado involucrados con la detención de niños.  
  • Informes de CBP producidos por el Equipo de Acción de Crisis Migratoria además de archivos de análisis de DHS sobre los efectos psicológicos en niños de sus padres.     

Related Documents

August 21, 2019

FOIA to DHS Seeking Photos of the El Paso Processing Center

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
August 19, 2019

DHS Records Regarding Communications with Outside Anti-Immigrant Groups

Department of Homeland Security
Agency Record
August 8, 2019

FOIA to CBP for Reports Produced by Migration Crisis Action Team

Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
August 1, 2019

DHS Records Regarding Detention Center Visits from Senator Merkley

Department of Homeland Security
Agency Record
July 31, 2019

CBP Records Related to the Migration Crisis Action Team

Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security
Agency Record
July 15, 2019

HHS Records Regarding DNA Testing Of Separated Families

Department of Health and Human Services
Agency Record
July 12, 2019

No Records Response from the Justice Management Division Regarding Family Separation Costs

Department of Justice
Agency Reply
July 11, 2019

DHS Records Regarding Family Separation and Communications with Anti-Immigration Activists

Department of Homeland Security
Agency Record
July 3, 2019

FOIA to DHS Seeking Communications Containing Terms Related to Family Separation

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
June 28, 2019

DHS Photographs of CBP’s Central Processing Station “Ursula” in McAllen, Texas

Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security
Agency Record
June 27, 2019

FOIA to CBP for Communications of Kevin McAleenan Containing Key Terms Related to Misrepresentation of Former Secretary Nielsen

Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
June 26, 2019

Complaint: American Oversight v. DHS, ICE, and CBP – Treatment of Detainees

Citizenship and Immigration Services, Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security
Litigation
June 24, 2019

HHS Photographs of Conditions in Facilities Housing Unaccompanied Minors

Administration for Children and Families, Department of Health and Human Services
Agency Record
June 14, 2019

HHS Photographs of Facilities Housing Unaccompanied Minors 

Department of Health and Human Services, HHS Office of Inspector General
Agency Record
May 9, 2019

USCIS Records of Communications Regarding Family Separation

Citizenship and Immigration Services
Agency Record
April 30, 2019

OMB Records Regarding the Cost of Family Separations

Office of Management and Budget
Agency Record
April 30, 2019

No Records Response from DHS Asking for Communications On the Impact of the “Zero Tolerance Policy” on Children’s Health

Department of Homeland Security
Agency Reply
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
March 19, 2019

No Records Response from USMS Regarding Costs of the Family Separation Policy

Department of Justice
Agency Reply
March 19, 2019

No Records Response from USMS Regarding Communications Related to the Family Separation Policy

Department of Justice
Agency Reply
March 13, 2019

HHS Records of Capacity Report Spreadsheets

Administration for Children and Families, Department of Health and Human Services
Agency Record
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 DOD Seeking Records Related to Use of Tear Gas at the Border

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 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. HHS – Family Separation Policy

Administration for Children and Families, Department of Health and Human Services, HHS Office of Inspector General
Litigation
December 4, 2018

Complaint: American Oversight v. Multiple Entities – Family Separation Policy Costs

Administration for Children and Families, Citizenship and Immigration Services, Customs and Border Protection, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Executive Office for Immigration Review, Office of Management and Budget, U.S. Marshals Service
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

Department of Homeland Security
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, Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
October 18, 2018

FOIA to CBP Seeking Migration Crisis Action Team Communications

Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security
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