Days after the Trump administration stopped separating migrant families at the border, it told the public those families would one day be reunited. But emails obtained by NBC News show that the administration didn't have enough information to do that.
On June 23, the Department of Homeland Security released a statement claiming that the administration had “a central database” of information on separated children and parents. The statement said that both DHS and the Department of Health and Human Services which was and remains in charge of caring for separated kids, could access that database. But that same day, an HHS official emailed an Immigration and Customs Enforcement official to say that, in fact, they only had enough info to reunite about 60 kids.
Thomas Fitzgerald, a data analyst at the Department of Health and Human Services, asked Matthew Albence, the former head of ICE's enforcement and removal operations, for information on the parents of 2,219 children, NBC reported.
"We have a list of parent alien numbers but no way to link them to children.”
“We have a list of parent alien numbers but no way to link them to children,” Fitzgerald wrote in an email to an individual NBC says is Albence. The federal government uses “alien numbers” to identify migrants apprehended by Border Patrol.
“Are you saying you don’t have the alien number for any of the parents?” Albence allegedly replied. Albence then explained that ICE would not be able to quickly provide that information.“In fact,” he added, “we may not have some of it."
Albence, who is now the acting head of ICE, didn’t respond to NBC’s request for comment, while Fitzgerald referred NBC to DHS. DHS told NBC that the two agencies added information about parents, which had been entered into spreadsheets, to another online platform that already had information about unaccompanied children.
Reunifying the families split up by the “zero tolerance” policy may now take up to two years, administration attorneys have said in court filings. And with the numbers of families apprehended at the southern border on the rise, family separations are reportedly still occurring.
Editor's note 3:40 p.m. ET: This story has been updated.
Cover: In this June 25, 2018 file photo, Christian, from Honduras, recounts his separation from his child at the border during a news conference at the Annunciation House,in El Paso, Texas. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)