Government investigators said Thursday that thousands more migrant children may have been separated from their families than the Trump administration has acknowledged. A report from the Health and Human Services inspector general's office found that family separations were occurring before the spring of last year, when the administration announced its "zero tolerance" policy on the border, per the AP. "The total number and current status of all children separated from their parents or guardians ... is unknown," says the report. It could be thousands more because family separations were taking place much earlier, during an influx that began in 2017, investigators found. The administration has identified about 2,700 children who were separated from their families. That figure was released as part of a court case in which a federal judge ordered families reunited.
Despite "considerable" effort by the department to locate all the children who were placed in its care after immigration authorities separated them from their families, officials were still finding new cases as long as five months after the judge's order requiring reunifications, the report said. Investigators raised concerns about the children who have not been identified because they were not covered by Judge Dana Sabraw's reunification order. That directive did not apply to "an estimated thousands of children whom (immigration authorities) separated during an influx that began in 2017," the report said. In the previous year, separated children made up 0.3% of unaccompanied minors in HHS custody. By August 2017, the figure had increased to 3.6%, notes the Washington Post. (These Guatemalan children were reunited with their parents.)