Coalition Calls for Urgent Investigation of Destruction of Records on Family Separation Crisis 

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Defending Rights & Dissent and Open the Government, together with a coalition of organizations committed to government accountability, civil liberties, human rights, and civil rights, is calling on Congress to immediately investigate the administration’s records management practices relating to the “zero-tolerance” immigration enforcement policy and family reunification efforts. This policy has caused a major humanitarian crisis, and the administration has already failed to meet court ordered deadlines to reunify children with their parents. While the government claims to know the location of all children in its custody, recent reports indicate that border agents are improperly destroying records on the separated families, heightening concern that these children might never see their parents again.
“Improper destruction of official records could be contributing to the disappearance of children, lost in a shadowy immigration enforcement system,” according to Lisa Rosenberg, Executive Director of Open the Government. “Lawyers and advocates are working tirelessly to help bring families back together, but urgently need more information to do so. Congress needs to take immediate action to protect records on family separation and demand greater transparency to make sure all the families are reunited.”
To increase access to information on this issue, Open the Government and the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) also filed a Freedom of Information Act request calling for the disclosure of all policy guidance relating to the handling of records by border agents, implementation of the zero-tolerance policy, and the administration’s family reunification plan (read the FOIA request here). The request asks for expedited processing, citing the urgent need to provide information to family members, advocates, and lawyers working to ensure the separated children see their parents again.
The zero-tolerance policy that began in April 2018 has led to the separation of an estimated 2,500 children from their asylum seeking parents, 100 under the age of five. The practice of taking away children has taken place under a cloak of secrecy, and followed a series of opaque policy changes that removed important protections for migrant children seeking asylum at the border. Now, media reports indicate that records linking children to their parents have disappeared, and in some cases have been destroyed, leaving the authorities struggling to identify connections between family members.
Recent investigations have also started to expose secret child holding facilities maintained by private contractors, which came to light only after reporters went to investigate calls from concerned neighbors worried they were witnessing human trafficking. Given such public concern over the treatment of migrant children, it is critical for Congress to act to demand maximum transparency and accountability to hasten an end to this humanitarian crisis.