According to New Inspector General Report, United States Lacked Technology to Track Separated Families under Trump Administration’s “Zero Tolerance Policy”

Zero Tolerance Policy & Lack of Technology to Track Families by Taher Kameli

Written by: Taher Kameli, Esq.

It is often said that the United States immigration system is broken.  Unfortunately, there are many different examples, from different perspectives and in different contexts, that can support this statement.  As one example of this statement, according to a new inspector general report, the United States lacked the technology to track separated families under the Trump administration’s “Zero Tolerance Policy”.

In year 2018, the Trump administration, through the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”), adopted its “Zero Tolerance Policy” – the prosecution of all adults illegally entering the United States.  Because children were not directly subject to this “Zero Tolerance Policy”, children were separated from their parents. In response to this separation of families as a result of the Trump administration’s “Zero Tolerance Policy”, the inspector general “conducted [an] audit to determine the effectiveness of DHS’ IT systems in tracking detainees and supporting efforts to reunify unaccompanied alien children with separated families”.

The result of the “audit” was the inspector general’s report, “DHS Lacked Technology Needed to Successfully Account for Separated Migrant Families” (the “Report”), issued on November 25.  The Report states, “DHS did not have the information technology (IT) system functionality needed to track separated migrant families during the execution of the Zero Tolerance PolicyU.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) adopted various ad hoc methods to record and track family separations, but these methods led to widespread errors.  CBP officials have been aware of these IT deficiencies since at least November 2017 when U.S. Border Patrol conducted an initiative that mirrored the Zero Tolerance Policy

These conditions persisted because CBP did not address its known IT deficiencies adequately before implementing Zero Tolerance in May 2018.  DHS also did not provide adequate guidance to personnel responsible for executing the Zero Tolerance Policy. . . . Although DHS spent thousands of hours and more than $1 million in overtime costs, it did not achieve the original goal of deterring ‘Catch-and-Release’ through the Zero Tolerance Policy.  Instead, thousands of detainees were released into the United States.  Moreover, the surge in apprehended families during this time resulted in children being held in CBP facilities beyond the 72 hour legal limit”.

The Report makes 5 recommendations.  The Report states,

Recommendation 1: We recommend the Chief, United States Border Patrol, institute process improvements and related training needed to improve field personnel abilities to track separated migrant family members. 

Recommendation 2: We recommend the Assistant Commissioner, CBP Office of Information and Technology, implement necessary modifications and controls within the ENFORCE 3 system to limit user error and improve data quality. 

Recommendation 3: We recommend the Executive Associate Director, ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations, coordinate with the Department of Health and Human Services to outline roles and responsibilities, and create and distribute standard operating procedures for migrant family reunification. 

Recommendation 4: We recommend the DHS Chief Information Officer work with ICE and CBP to ensure system interoperability to improve cross-component information sharing and coordination on border security operations. 

Recommendation 5: We recommend the Deputy Under Secretary for Management coordinate with Health and Human Services to standardize processes for collecting and sharing detainee tracking information and communicating those requirements to field personnel”.

According to the report, “The Department concurred with all five recommendations.  Based on the information provided in your response to the draft report, we consider recommendations 1, 2, 4, and 5 open and resolved. . . . Based on the information provided in your response to the draft report, we consider recommendation 3 open and unresolved. 

As prescribed by the Department of Homeland Security Directive 077-01, Follow-Up and Resolutions for the Office of Inspector General Report Recommendations, within 90 days of the date of this memorandum, please provide our office with a written response that includes your (1) agreement or disagreement, (2) corrective action plan, and (3) target completion date for each recommendation.  Also, please include responsible parties and any other supporting documentation necessary to inform us about the current status of the recommendation. Until your response is received and evaluated, the recommendation will be considered open and unresolved”.

The anti-immigration policies of the Trump administration already make life difficult for immigrants today.  When the implementation of these policies results in “widespread errors” and “deficiencies”, as described in the Report, the situation is even worse for immigrants.  To best respond to these challenges under the United States immigration system, immigrants need to retain representation from skilled immigration lawyers, such as Kameli Law, which has had years of success and experience in representing immigration clients.  If you need help with any immigration matter, please contact the Kameli Law, at or 312-233-1000, for assistance.

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