When reports emerged last summer that the Trump administration ripped nearly 3,000 migrant children from their parents at the border, national outrage ensued. But according to a new government report, the number of families torn apart by the U.S. government is likely much higher than what’s been reported — and the cruel practice of separating undocumented children from their parents extends back further than we knew.
At least 2,737 children were taken from their parents under Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy, which was implemented in May of 2018 and ended via executive order three months later. But according to a report released on Thursday by the inspector general for the department of Health and Human Services, there was a sharp increase in the number of migrant families being separated at the border starting in the summer of 2017 — long before the policy was announced.
“Thousands of children may have been separated during an influx that began in 2017 … and HHS has faced challenges in identifying separated children,” the report said.
It’s unclear what fate awaits those who were separated before the “zero-tolerance” policy was implemented. The families that were torn apart starting under the policy must be reunited, per a court order. That ruling, however, did not address migrant families that were ripped apart beforehand.
Furthermore, because the administration was not required to count the number of separations before the 2018 court ruling, the Department of Health and Human Services has no idea how many families were torn apart prior to then, nor how many of them have been reunited.
In a call with reporters on Thursday, an official from the HHS Office of Inspector General said, “We don’t have any information on those children who were released prior to the court order.”
But perhaps that will change. Following the report’s release, the ACLU vowed on Twitter to fight for the additional separated families in court, slamming the family-separation policy as “a cruel disaster from the start.”
“This report reaffirms that the government never had a clear picture of how many children it ripped from their parents,” the tweet continues. “We will be back in court over this latest revelation.”