The latest data reported to the federal judge monitoring one of the most controversial of President Donald Trump’s immigration policies shows that 245 children have been removed from their families since the court ordered the government to halt routine separations under last spring’s “zero tolerance” border enforcement policy. Some of the new separations are being undertaken with no clear documentation to help track the children’s whereabouts.
The recent separations have occurred largely because parents have been flagged for fraud, a communicable disease or past criminal history — in some cases relatively minor violations that ordinarily would not lead to the loss of parental custody.
In Congress last week, Democrats grilled Kirstjen Nielsen, the Homeland Security secretary, over the separation policy, citing research that has found that separations from parents can inflict long-term psychological harm on children.
Customs and Border Protection officials say the separations are legal under the parameters set by the court and are intended to protect children, who they say may be threatened by human trafficking or by adults pretending to be a parent to capitalize on the advantage that gives them under U.S. immigration laws.
But opposition to the new separations has been growing from outside and inside the federal government. At the Health and Human Services Department’s Office of Refugee Resettlement, which oversees the care of separated children until they can be reunited with their families, some officials have tried to resist receiving children referred to the agency by the Border Patrol.
According to an official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, staff members have in some cases raised questions with Border Patrol agents about separations with what appear to be little or no justification. In some of those cases, border agents have refused to provide additional information, the official said, or if additional documents were provided, they were sometimes redacted to the point of illegibility.
The failure to keep accurate records suggests that more children could have been separated than the 245 accounted for by Feb. 20 in official records.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.