The White House didn’t give federal agencies a heads up regarding its so-called “zero tolerance” policy, which meant prosecuting all immigrants crossing the border without documentation and resulted in the government forcibly separating thousands of kids from their parents, detaining them in abysmal conditions, and then, in many cases, deporting parents without their children.
According to the Government Accountability Office, officials at the Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Homeland Security were woefully underprepared to process families and detain them, adding dysfunction and chaos to an already cruel process.
The New York Times reports that DHS officials didn’t prepare because they didn’t know about the policy changes, and that (emphasis mine):
Staff members at the Department of Health and Human Services said their leaders told them not to prepare for an increase in children separated from their families because homeland security officials claimed that they did not have an official policy of separating parents and children, according to the report, which was prepared by the Government Accountability Office, Congress’s nonpartisan investigative arm.
The Times further explains:
Many of the children were placed in government-run shelters thousands of miles away from their parents. But the report found that in some cases, officials at the Department of Homeland Security did not notify staff at the shelters that a child had been separated from his or her parents. One shelter’s officials told the Government Accountability Office that for some of the children in its care, they had learned that the child was separated only when the child told them.
In response to the report, DHS spokesperson Katie Waldman mentioned only that DHS has reunited families (families that DHS initially separated), and that adults without children are still being criminally prosecuted at the border.
New Jersey Democrat Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., who requested the report, called the findings “disturbing.”
“This disturbing G.A.O. report shows the tragic consequences of carrying out a cruel and misguided policy impacting thousands of families without any preparation or prior notification to the agencies charged with implementing it,” he said.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump continues to consider family separation a successful and necessary policy.