Trump officials said they had ‘no way to link’ separated migrant families, emails show


Trump administration officials privately acknowledged that they had no way to reunite thousands of separated immigrant parents and children, according to emails published by NBC News on Wednesday.

“[I]n short, no, we do not have any linkages from parents to [children], save for a handful,” a Health and Human Services (HHS) official told a top official at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on June 23, 2018. “We have a list of parent alien numbers but no way to link them to children.”

The emails, provided to NBC by the House Judiciary Committee, showed that officials privately said they only had information to reconnect 60 parents with their kids.{mosads}

Thomas Fitzgerald, a data analyst at HHS, e-mailed Matthew Albence, then the head of ICE’s enforcement and removal operations on June 23 asking for numbers assigned to the separated parents to be inserted into a spreadsheet of 2,219 children. Albence, now the acting head of ICE, replied several hours later asking “[A]re you saying you don’t have the alien number for any of the parents?”

“[T]he type and volume of what you are requesting,” Albence said, “is not something that we are going to be able to complete in a rapid fashion, and in fact, we may not have some of it.”

Fitzgerald told Albence in an email that HHS did not have a way to connect the thousands of children with their families, stating that he had information for a handful of parents, “about 60.”

The gaps in information reportedly triggered a months-long effort to reunite nearly 3,000 families separated under the administration’s so-called “zero tolerance” policy.

As many as 55 children separated under the since-halted policy are still in HHS custody at U.S. shelters, NBC News reported. President Trump ended the policy on June 20 after facing bipartisan condemnation.

On June 23, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a fact sheet claiming that the “United States government knows the location of all children in its custody and is working to reunite them with their families.”

DHS and HHS have a “have a process established to ensure that family members know the location of their children,” with “a central database which HHS and DHS can access and update,” the fact sheet said.

But the emails published Wednesday indicate that database had not yet been established, NBC News noted.

The emails confirm the findings from a September 2018 report by DHS’s Office of Inspector General, which said in that report that its conversations with ICE employees showed there was “no evidence” of a centralized database “containing location information for separated parents and minors.” 

Albence did not respond to a request for comment from NBC and Fitzgerald referred questions to DHS. DHS told NBC that the department and HHS collected the information about parents entered on spreadsheets and added it to a SharePoint site already filled in with information about unaccompanied children by HHS.

DHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill on the emails.

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