American Horror Story: Baby Jails Inspector General Report

US Customs and Border Protection photo

An internal Department of Homeland Security report found the Trump administration's family separation policy was an omnishambles from the very beginning, with lousy planning, crappy communication between different agencies, and a general lack of responsibility from anyone, according to a copy of the report the Washington Post got its hands on. After touching the thing, the venerable newspaper asked for some hand sanitizer and eye bleach.

And golly, what a fine mess the government made of a terrible policy it was just sure would be cruel enough to prevent migrants and refugees from trying to reach safety in the USA:

The DHS Office of Inspector General's review found at least 860 migrant children were left in Border Patrol holding cells longer than the 72-hour limit mandated by U.S. courts, with one minor confined for 12 days and another for 25.

Many of those children were put in chain-link holding pens in the Rio Grande Valley of southern Texas. The facilities were designed as short-term way stations, lacking beds and showers, while the children awaited transfer to shelters run by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Call us cynical, but we're fairly sure that's a feature, not a bug. That and the super-cold AC that led to the migrants' name for the holding areas: hieleras, or "iceboxes." That particular practice appears to have been around since at least the unaccompanied-minor influx of 2014-16, though, so it's more a matter of standard practice; WaPo's story on the IG report doesn't even mention it.

As many news reports suggested at the time, implementation of the "zero tolerance" policy was largely improvised, and led to huge communications breakdowns between the multiple agencies involved. Customs and Border Protection (part of DHS) did the initial migrant-catching and child-taking-away, and was supposed to get the stolen kids to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (part of Health and Human Services) for storage in that agency's "shelters" and maybe placement with foster families or whatever. Unfortunately, the two agencies were barely on speaking terms, and had to make things up as they went along, as the IG report indicates:

The investigators describe a poorly coordinated interagency process that left distraught parents with little or no knowledge of their children's whereabouts. In other instances, U.S. officials were forced to share minors' files on Microsoft Word documents sent as email attachments because the government's internal systems couldn't communicate.

"Each step of this manual process is vulnerable to human error, increasing the risk that a child could become lost in the system," the report found.

Making shit up as you go along is definitely the Trump Way, and has the side benefit of making every part of this horrible policy confusing and arbitrary, to scare migrants. We're convinced the chaos was only half the result of crappy planning -- it fits too perfectly with Trump's habit of bringing Nixon's Madman Theory to everything his administration does.

And of course there were far worse instances of weaponized incompetence, like the Border Patrol treating children who were too young to talk just like everyone else CBP arrested:

"Border Patrol does not provide pre-verbal children with wrist bracelets or other means of identification, nor does Border Patrol fingerprint or photograph most children during processing to ensure that they can be easily linked with the proper file," the report said.

That fits in perfectly with press accounts of CBP losing or destroying documents that could have linked children with the parents they were taken from, not to mention the account of immigrant-rights advocate Michele Brané, who told PBS she asked to meet with some children aged under three years being held at a baby jail. The guards went out to fetch them, but came back and said nobody answered when their names were called. Apparently none of the babies were named Kafka.

Also too, just after Trump's bullshit executive order that sort of ended family separation -- but didn't order kids and parents be reunified; a judge had to do that -- DHS claimed it had a "central database" that could be used to find any child in HHS custody and match kids to parents instantly, like magic. Nahh, no such thing, according to the IG report. They were all just blowing smoke up our asses, haha:

"The OIG team asked several [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] employees, including those involved with DHS' reunification efforts at ICE Headquarters, if they knew of such a database, and they did not," it states. "DHS has since acknowledged to the OIG that there is no 'direct electronic interface' between DHS and HHS tracking systems."

DHS officials' formal reply to the IG report included the usual blather about seeking to ensure good interagency communication and compliance with legal time limits, so don't you worry. They've learned from their mistakes, and next time around they'll do monstrous things more efficiently.

Also, in a lovely bit of petulance, the DHS reply complained the report "provides no mention of the Department's significant accomplishments to reunify families." After a court order which DHS resisted and dragged its feet on complying with -- and still hasn't. Hell, DHS even tried to outsource the job of reunifying families to the ACLU. And even with the ACLU doing most of the heavy lifting, there are still more than 150 separated kids in HHS custody, apart from the thousands of "unaccompanied alien children" currently filling the baby jails to overflowing.

Oh, and one more whole separate outrage all on its own! The IG report also casually mentions that CBP's efforts to block people from legally seeking asylum may have made things worse, indicating attempts to turn asylum seekers away from legal ports of entry "may have inadvertently prompted them to cross illegally. One woman said an officer had turned her away three times, so she crossed illegally," according to WaPo.

Again that's consistent with reports going back months of border officials trying to prevent people from seeking asylum at ports of entry. Just yesterday, the Texas Tribune reported an escalation: CBP has erected a booth halfway across the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge, right at the border line between the US and Mexico, so agents can prevent asylum seekers from even making it to the Port of Entry on the US side of the bridge. It's all about preventing smuggling, CBP insists, but it's pretty obvious the real goal is to prevent Central Americans with legitimate fear of being murdered at home from setting foot on US soil.

Do it the legal way, we say. But we won't let you do it that way, either.

[WaPo / Chicago Sun-Times / Texas Tribune]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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