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Ask the man once tasked with caring for children separated from their families at the U.S. southern border if his agency improved people’s lives, and he won’t hesitate to answer.
“Yes,” Scott Lloyd, the former head of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, told VICE News in his first major on-camera interview since the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance policy” split up thousands of families.
“I did everything that I could, according to what was required of me,” Lloyd later said of his time at the office.
During his tenure, Lloyd ran the government facilities that house minors who cross the border alone and without authorization, including children separated from their parents through the zero tolerance policy. He left the office in late 2018, then departed the Trump administration altogether last year.
Meanwhile, activists are still struggling to reunite hundreds of parents with their children.
Typically, families who cross the border into the United States without authorization are placed in civil immigration proceedings and either held together in family detention facilities or released together to await their court dates. But the zero tolerance policy changed that by mandating that border crossers be criminally prosecuted. Parents charged with the crime of illegal entry were sent to federal jail, where minors cannot stay — so their children were separated from them and sent to facilities for immigrant children that were under Lloyd’s supervision.
At the height of the crisis, the Trump administration did not keep track of the locations and contact information for many families. In fact, only after a court order demanded that the administration reunite separated families did the Office of Refugee Resettlement devise a consistent method — a simple checkbox in an online portal — to record whether a child had been separated from their parents.
At that point, the zero tolerance policy had been in place for weeks, and more than 2,700 children were known to have been separated from their parents. In late 2019, the Trump administration revealed to the ACLU that it had also separated another 1,556 children before a federal judge ordered the end of the policy.
That latter group of children, who would have entered government custody under Lloyd’s watch, had been released before the judge required reunification. No record was kept of where they ended up. Now, the ACLU is working to find and reunite them with their parents, many of whom have been deported to their home countries.
“If we’re pointing fingers, everybody shares a little bit of the blame. That’s the risk that parents take when they engage in law-breaking,” Lloyd said.
“Can you say that a parent who intentionally breaks the law and then suffers the consequences is free of fault?” he later continued. ”I don’t know. Like I said, there’s probably a little bit of blame to go around.”
By the time the American public revolted against the policy, Lloyd was no stranger to the spotlight. Starting in late 2017, he had refused to let migrant teenagers in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement receive abortions. Lloyd had maintained that, under agency policy, he had to personally authorize requests for the procedure. His refusals triggered a months-long legal battle, which the Trump administration lost.
Lloyd also discussed trying to use a controversial, scientifically unproven method to reverse one teen's abortion and received a weekly spreadsheet that contained information on every pregnant teen in the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s custody — including whether she’d asked for an abortion and the gestational age of her fetus. That spreadsheet soon became infamous, after Lloyd was accused of using it to track girls’ periods.
It’s a charge that Lloyd disputes. He told VICE News that the spreadsheet was really used to tally the number of pregnant minors in the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s custody, and that he “rarely consulted” it.
“It’s information that we, our medical team, needed anyway,” he said. “This notion that I was tracking menstrual cycles of women — that is, it’s disgusting. It’s something that I’ve got to kind of deal with and try to put out. And I never even noticed that that information was there until I started being asked about it in, in Congress.”
A spreadsheet that included a fetus’s gestational age would indicate the approximate date of a woman’s last period. In two instances, out of hundreds of entries, the “last menstrual cycle” of the minor is explicitly noted in the spreadsheet. In one case, the girl was 15 years old and had requested an abortion; in the other, the pregnancy occured after, according to the spreadsheet’s notes, a 14-year-old experienced a “forced sexual encounter by husband.”
Since leaving the administration, Lloyd has promoted his debut novel, about a college student who regrets an abortion. (Lloyd is a devout Catholic and a longtime anti-abortion crusader.) He’s also focused on his band “Day of Salvation.” (The band’s website doesn’t describe itself as Christian rock, but Jesus comes up in their lyrics.) He lives with his wife and seven children in suburban Virginia.
Watch more of VICE News' interview with Lloyd, which first aired on May 24, on Showtime.
Cover: Scott Loyd, former head of the Office of Refugee Resettlement speaks to VICE News on December 19, 2019, in Washington, D.C.