The US government may have separated “thousands” more immigrant children from their parents than previously known but inadequate record-keeping means the exact number is still unclear, an internal watchdog said on Wednesday.
The Office of Inspector General at the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said the agency had identified many more children in addition to the 2,737 that were included as part of a class action lawsuit challenging the separations brought by the American Civil Liberties Union last year.
The administration of President Donald Trump implemented a zero tolerance policy to criminally prosecute and jail all undocumented border crossers, even those travelling with their children, leading to a wave of separations last year.
But the auditor said in a report that prior to the officially announced policy, the government had ramped up separations for other reasons related to a child’s safety and well-being, including separating parents with criminal records or lack of proper documents.
Those separations were only tracked informally, making it impossible for the auditor to know the exact number.