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 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.

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

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 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 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