oversight

DHS Lacked Technology Needed to Successfully Account for Separated Migrant Families

Published by the Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General on 2019-11-27.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

DHS Lacked Technology
Needed to Successfully
Account for Separated
Migrant Families




                 November 25, 2019
                        OIG-20-06
                                          DHS OIG HIGHLIGHTS

                     DHS Lacked Technology Needed to Successfully 

                        Account for Separated Migrant Families 



November 25,                               What We Found
2019                                       DHS did not have the information technology (IT) system
                                           functionality needed to track separated migrant families
Why We Did                                 during the execution of the Zero Tolerance Policy. U.S.
                                           Customs and Border Protection (CBP) adopted various ad
This Audit                                 hoc methods to record and track family separations, but
In fiscal year 2018, the                   these methods led to widespread errors. CBP officials have
Department of Homeland                     been aware of these IT deficiencies since at least November
Security apprehended                       2017 when U.S. Border Patrol conducted an initiative that
more than 100,000                          mirrored the Zero Tolerance Policy. These conditions
families for illegal entry.                persisted because CBP did not address its known IT
From May 5, 2018, to                       deficiencies adequately before implementing Zero Tolerance
June 20, 2018, DHS                         in May 2018. DHS also did not provide adequate guidance to
adopted a Zero Tolerance                   personnel responsible for executing the Zero Tolerance Policy.
Policy to refer for
                                           Because of these IT deficiencies, we could not confirm the total
prosecution all adults
                                           number of families DHS separated during the Zero Tolerance
illegally entering the
                                           period. DHS estimated that Border Patrol agents separated
United States. We
                                           3,014 children from their families while the policy was in
conducted this audit to
                                           place. DHS also estimated it had completed 2,155
determine the
                                           reunifications in response to a court order, although this effort
effectiveness of DHS’ IT
                                           continued for 7 months beyond the July 2018 deadline for
systems in tracking
                                           reunifying children with their parents. However, we
detainees and supporting
                                           conducted a review of DHS data during the Zero Tolerance
efforts to reunify
                                           period and identified 136 children with potential family
unaccompanied alien
                                           relationships who were not accurately recorded by CBP. In a
children with separated
                                           broader analysis of DHS data between the dates of October 1,
families.
                                           2017, to February 14, 2019, we identified an additional 1,233
                                           children with potential family relationships that were not
What We                                    accurately recorded by CBP. Without a reliable account of all
Recommend                                  family relationships, we could not validate the total number of
                                           separations, or reunifications.
We made five
recommendations to DHS                     Although DHS spent thousands of hours and more than $1
to improve its IT systems                  million in overtime costs, it did not achieve the original goal
to support tracking and                    of deterring “Catch-and-Release” through the Zero Tolerance
reunification of separated                 Policy. Instead, thousands of detainees were released into
family units.                              the United States. Moreover, the surge in apprehended
                                           families during this time resulted in children being held in
For Further Information:
Contact our Office of Public Affairs at    CBP facilities beyond the 72-hour legal limit.
(202) 981-6000, or email us at
DHS-OIG.OfficePublicAffairs@oig.dhs.gov

                                           Agency Response
                                           DHS concurred with our recommendations.
www.oig.dhs.gov                                                                               OIG-20-06
1RYHPEHU

                  OFFICE OF INSPECTOR GENERAL
                      Department of Homeland Security


Consistent with our responsibility under the Inspector General Act, we will
provide copies of our report to congressional committees with oversight and
appropriation responsibility over the Department of Homeland Security. We
will post the report on our website for public dissemination.

Please call me with any questions, or your staff may contact Kristen Bernard,
Deputy Assistant Inspector General, at (202) 981-6000.

Attachment




www.oig.dhs.gov                        2
                         OFFICE OF INSPECTOR GENERAL
                               Department of Homeland Security


                                        Table of Contents


Background .............................................................................................. 1


Results of Audit ....................................................................................... 7


  DHS Lacked Adequate IT Functionality to Record and Track Family
  Separations ................................................................................................. 8

  DHS Did Not Address IT Deficiencies or Provide Guidance and Standard
  Procedures Prior to Zero Tolerance Implementation .................................... 17

  DHS Could Not Accurately Account for Separated Families or Accomplish
  Reunifications as Mandated ....................................................................... 24

  DHS Did Not Achieve Zero Tolerance Goals Amid Ineffective IT Tracking and
  Management of Separated Families ............................................................ 34

Recommendations ................................................................................. 37


Appendices
     Appendix A: Objective, Scope, and Methodology ................................. 46 

     Appendix B: DHS Comments to the Draft Report ................................. 48 

     Appendix C: Report Distribution .......................................................... 55 


Abbreviations

        CBP                       U.S. Customs and Border Protection
        e3                        ENFORCE 3
        EARM                      ENFORCE Alien Removal Module
        EID                       Enforcement Integrated Database
        ERO                       Enforcement and Removal Operations
        FMUA                      Family Units
        GAO                       Government Accountability Office
        HHS                       Department of Health and Human Services
        ICE                       U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
        IT                        information technology
        OFO                       Office of Field Operations
        OIG                       Office of Inspector General
        OMB                       Office of Management and Budget
        ORR                       Office of Refugee Resettlement
        SIGMA                     Secured Integrated Government Mainframe Access
        UAC                       Unaccompanied Alien Child(ren)



www.oig.dhs.gov                                                                                     OIG-20-06
                      OFFICE OF INSPECTOR GENERAL
                           Department of Homeland Security


                                       Background


Each year, hundreds of thousands of people attempt to enter the United States
illegally through the southern border with Mexico. According to U.S. Customs
and Border Protection (CBP), in fiscal year 2018 DHS apprehended about
107,200 families and 50,000 children for unlawful entry at the Southwest
Border. Collectively, these crossings represent a 34 percent increase from FY
2017, when CBP apprehended more than 75,000 families and at least 41,400
children.

DHS has primary responsibility for securing U.S. borders from illegal activity
and regulating travel and legal trade. Within DHS, CBP’s U.S. Border Patrol
employs more than 21,000 individuals to enforce immigration laws and
safeguard approximately 6,000 miles of U.S. border, including 2,000 miles on
the Southwest Border. Border Patrol agents apprehend individuals illegally
crossing the border, as well as human traffickers and smugglers. In addition,
Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Enforcement and Removal
Operations (ERO) takes action against foreign nationals who pose a threat to
national security or public safety, or who illegally enter the United States. ERO
officers arrest, transport, detain, and deport individuals to their countries of
origin. ERO officers also monitor individuals released from detention into the
interior of the country while awaiting final rulings from immigration
proceedings, a practice commonly referred to as “Catch-and-Release.”1

DHS’ efforts are aided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’
(HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which is responsible for the care
and custody of children who enter the country alone or without legal
guardians, referred to as unaccompanied alien children (UAC). ORR places
UAC in temporary shelters and facilitates long-term placement with approved
sponsors.

Timeline of Family Separation Policies

On April 6, 2018, the President issued a memorandum to the heads of various
departments, including DHS, to submit within 45 days a summary of efforts
taken to end the practice of “Catch-and-Release.”2 On the same date, the U.S.
Attorney General issued a memorandum directing all Federal prosecutors’
offices along the Southwest Border to work with DHS to adopt a “Zero


1 “Catch-and-Release” refers to the practice of releasing aliens into the United States shortly

after their apprehension for violations of immigration laws.
2 Presidential Memorandum for the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the Attorney

General, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and the Secretary of Homeland Security,
April 6, 2018

www.oig.dhs.gov                                 1                                     OIG-20-06
                        OFFICE OF INSPECTOR GENERAL
                             Department of Homeland Security


Tolerance Policy,” which required criminal prosecution of DHS referrals of 8
U.S.C. § 1325(a) violations, to the extent practicable.3

In accordance with the requirements of the memorandum, on May 5, 2018,
DHS adopted the Zero Tolerance Policy department-wide and began referring for
prosecution all adults, including those accompanied by children, who entered
the United States illegally. The Department’s Zero Tolerance Policy lasted
approximately six weeks from the May implementation date. Figure 1 shows
key policy implementation dates.

                      Figure 1: Timeline of Zero Tolerance Policy




    Source: Office of Inspector General (OIG)-generated from DHS data and Zero Tolerance related
                                          legal documentation

On June 20, 2018, the President issued Executive Order 13841,4 ending the
practice of family separations. On June 26, 2018, a Federal District Court
judge in the Ms. L. v. ICE litigation issued a preliminary injunction to stop DHS
from separating migrant adults from their children, absent a determination
that the parent is unfit or presents a danger to the children, when they are
held in DHS custody.5 The judge also ordered the Government to reunify
children younger than age 5 with their parents within 14 days and children 5
years and older within 30 days of the court order.

3
 See Dept. of Justice, Memorandum for Federal Prosecutors Along the Southwest Border, April 6,
2018 (directing all United States Attorney’s Offices along the Southwest Border to “adopt
immediately a zero-tolerance policy for all offenses referred for prosecution under [8 U.S.C §
1325(a)].”) Entering the United States without inspection and approval is a civil offense that
may also result in criminal charges. See 8 United States Code (U.S.C.) §§ 1227 (civil grounds
for removal), 1325 (crime of improper entry), 1326 (crime of reentry). The Department of
Justice has the authority to decide whether and to what extent to prosecute Federal crimes.
4 Exec. Order No. 13841, Affording Congress an Opportunity to Address Family Separations,

was announced and became effective on June 20, 2018, and was published in the Federal
Register at 83 FR 29,435 on June 25, 2018.
5Ms. L. v. ICE, 18-cv-428 (S.D. Cal. June 26, 2018).



www.oig.dhs.gov                                  2                                    OIG-20-06
                      OFFICE OF INSPECTOR GENERAL
                           Department of Homeland Security


DHS Standard Operating Procedures for Processing Apprehended Families
and Children

When Border Patrol agents apprehend migrants for illegal entry into the United
States, they interview them, review any identifying documentation (such as
birth certificates or passports), collect biometrics,6 and conduct criminal
history checks. If a migrant indicates an intention to apply for asylum or a fear
of persecution, the agent will refer the migrant for an interview by an asylum
officer.7 During initial processing, Border Patrol agents determine whether
each apprehended individual is part of a family. Border Patrol agents use two
methods for classifying apprehended relatives, depending on the family
members’ relationships:

    1. Family Unit Classification: 	Border Patrol defines a family unit as an
       adult, age 18 or older, accompanied by a child younger than age 18, who
       is able to demonstrate parentage or guardianship. Border Patrol agents
       process all family members together and assign them an information
       technology (IT) system-generated family unit (FMUA) number. Additional
       case notes are entered to provide details on each family member, such as
       apprehension information and any addresses or information for the
       family's point of contact in the United States.

    2. Family Group Classification: 	Border Patrol defines a family group as two
       relatives, such as siblings or a child traveling with his/her aunt or
       grandparent, and records them as a “Family Group” in its IT system and
       case notes.

After initial processing, Border Patrol agents determine whether to refer an
adult parent for criminal prosecution based on the circumstances of the initial
apprehension or the individual’s prior criminal history. If Border Patrol
determines that a parent is unfit or presents a danger to the child, or is held
for criminal prosecution, the Border Patrol agent separates the family. When
DHS separates children from adults held for prosecution, the children are
deemed UAC and transferred to ORR custody. In such cases, Border Patrol
reclassifies the parent as a single adult and the child as a UAC in the IT
system.



6 CBP collects biometrics, such as fingerprints, for alien immigrants who are 14 years or older.
7 The Secretary of Homeland Security or the Attorney General may grant asylum to any alien
who qualifies as a “refugee” under U.S. Immigration Law [8 U.S.C. § 1158]. Generally, a
“refugee” is a person outside his/her country of nationality who is unable or unwilling to return
to that country “because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of
race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion” [8
U.S.C. § 1101(a)(42)(A)].

www.oig.dhs.gov                                3                               	      OIG-20-06
                      OFFICE OF INSPECTOR GENERAL
                           Department of Homeland Security


However, CBP cannot detain migrant adults or children long-term. By law,
DHS should refer the adult for prosecution within 48 hours8 and must transfer
children to HHS within 72 hours of apprehension, absent “exceptional
circumstances.”9 DHS transfers all UAC to HHS ORR custody through a
referral and placement request. The child remains in ORR care until HHS can
make custody arrangements. ORR places most detained children in ORR-
funded shelters located in different states across the country. Figure 2 depicts
the process for adults and children who have entered the country illegally.

    Figure 2: Detainee Process for Illegal Entry for Family Units and UAC




                         Source: OIG-generated based on DHS data10

Once Border Patrol processes individuals for illegal entry, ICE ERO officers
transport them to detention facilities. Specifically, ERO transfers separated
children to HHS ORR facilities as needed, but houses single adults, along with
a limited number of families awaiting immigration proceedings, at ICE
detention centers.

8 City of Riverside v. McLaughlin, 500 U.S. 56, 57 (1991), probable cause determination must
be made within 48 hours after arrest. In Jones v. Lowndes County, 678 F.3d 344, 350 (5th Cir.
2012), 48 to 72 hours is also an acceptable timeframe in which to be referred for prosecution
and have a hearing before a judge, for example, when the arrest is made over a weekend.
9 There are special rules for U A C from Mexico and Canada that may permit a different process,

8 U.S.C. § 1232(a)(2)(A). However, if UAC cannot be processed under those rules, CBP must
follow the same process established for unaccompanied alien children from other countries [8
U.S.C. § 1232(a)(3)].
10 Figure 2 does not represent formal removal proceedings under Immigration Nationality Act §

240.

www.oig.dhs.gov                               4                                     OIG-20-06
                       OFFICE OF INSPECTOR GENERAL
                            Department of Homeland Security


Separated families can be reunified either after a parent is released from
custody or prior to removal from the United States. If DHS releases parents
from custody into the United States, eligible parents can contact ORR to
coordinate reunification with their children.11 Additionally, parents may
request reunification prior to ICE removing them from the United States.

DHS’ Role in Family Separations Prior to Zero Tolerance

Before Zero Tolerance Policy implementation, DHS played a minimal role in
reunifying migrant families, as separations rarely occurred. For example, when
CBP apprehended an alien family unit attempting to enter the United States
illegally, it usually placed the adult in civil immigration proceedings without
referring him or her for criminal prosecution. CBP only separated apprehended
parents from children in limited circumstances—e.g., if the adult had a
criminal history or an outstanding warrant, or if CBP could not determine
whether the adult was the child’s parent or legal guardian. Accordingly, in
most instances, family units either remained together in family detention
centers operated by ICE while their civil immigration cases were pending, or
they were released into the United States with orders to appear in immigration
court at a later date.

Border Patrol officials reported it conducted a prosecution initiative in FY 2017
in the El Paso Sector to deter illegal border crossings by increasing
prosecutions, which resulted in an increase in family separations. On April 11,
2017, the U.S. Attorney General issued a memo that directed all Federal
prosecutors to renew their commitment to criminal immigration enforcement.
Border Patrol’s El Paso Sector conducted the initiative from July to November
2017 to maintain operational control of New Mexico and parts of Texas by
prosecuting criminal adults who attempted to exploit the UAC crisis in order to
avoid prosecution. Border Patrol ended the El Paso initiative on November 18,
2017, to further review the prosecution policy.

Systems Used to Support Detainee Processing and Tracking

Border Patrol and ICE personnel use various IT systems to track detainees and
family separations. Border Patrol agents rely on the ENFORCE 3 (e3) system to
record detainee information throughout the process from apprehension to
prosecution or release. ICE field officers use the Enforce Alien Removal Module
(EARM) to process detainees. Both e3 and EARM data are stored in ICE’s
Enforcement Integrated Database (EID). CBP’s Office of Field Operations (OFO)
officers use the Secured Integrated Government Mainframe Access (SIGMA)


 Parents ineligible for reunification with their children include those with criminal histories or
11

who might be considered a danger to their children.

www.oig.dhs.gov                                 5                                      OIG-20-06
                      OFFICE OF INSPECTOR GENERAL
                            Department of Homeland Security


platform to process individuals at legal ports of entry.12 HHS maintains its
Unaccompanied Alien Children Portal (UAC Portal) to track children in HHS
custody. These systems are detailed in table 1.

            Table 1: IT Systems for Managing and Tracking Detainees
 CBP
                            e3 has separate modules that allow Border Patrol agents to
                            capture detainee biographic data, apprehension information, and
                e3
                            biometric data (e.g., fingerprints), as well as track detention
                            status and prosecution referral information.13

                            SIGMA is OFO’s platform for processing adverse actions for
              SIGMA
                            inadmissible applicants for admission to the United States.

 ICE
                            ERO’s case management system records custody decisions,
              EARM
                            detention, and removal specifics in a detainee’s personal record.
                            EID is a shared repository for storing law enforcement
                            information from CBP’s e3 and SIGMA systems and ICE’s EARM
                EID
                            system on migrants apprehended and detained, as well as family
                            units and family separations.
 HHS
                            HHS’ database tracks information related to juveniles in ORR
            UAC Portal
                            custody.
                           Source: OIG-generated based on DHS data

Recent Reports on the Zero Tolerance Policy

DHS OIG, HHS OIG, and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) have
conducted several audits or inspections of DHS’ and HHS’ ability to track
family separations. These agencies reported on the challenges DHS faced in
tracking family separations during the Zero Tolerance Policy period.

     x   In September 2018, DHS OIG reported initial observations from its June
         26–28, 2018 visit to the Southwest Border to evaluate family separation
         issues resulting from the Zero Tolerance Policy. DHS OIG reported that
         the Department was not fully prepared to implement the Administration’s
         policy or deal with some of its after-effects. Additionally, DHS OIG found


12 OFO is responsible for inspecting and examining legitimate travel and trade at ports of entry,

and preventing the entry into the United States of contraband and those persons who would 

harm the United States. Because OFO operates at legal ports of entry, the office played a 

limited role in implementing the Zero Tolerance Policy and separating families.

13 The system modules include Intake, Detention, Biometrics, Prosecution, and Processing.



www.oig.dhs.gov                                 6                                      OIG-20-06
                      OFFICE OF INSPECTOR GENERAL
                           Department of Homeland Security


       that the Department struggled to identify, track, and reunify families due
       to systems limitations, including a lack of interoperability.14
   x	 In October 2018, GAO reported that HHS and DHS did not plan for
      increased numbers of children separated from their parents or legal
      guardians. GAO reported that DHS and HHS officials were unaware of
      the Zero Tolerance Policy until the U.S. Attorney General issued the
      memo directing all United States Attorney Offices along the Southwest
      Border to work with DHS to adopt it. Additionally, GAO reported that
      prior to April 2018, DHS and HHS did not have a consistent way to
      identify in their data systems children separated from their parents at
      the border. DHS and HHS made tracking system upgrades between April
      and July 2018; however, it was too early for GAO to determine the extent
      to which the changes would consistently identify children separated from
      their parents or help reunify families.15
   x	 In January 2019, HHS OIG reported that the total number of children
      separated from a parent by DHS was unknown. As of December 2018,
      HHS identified 2,737 children separated by Border Patrol and transferred
      to ORR custody. However, HHS OIG reported that DHS may have
      separated thousands more children since 2017 and that HHS faced
      challenges identifying separated children.16

We conducted this audit to follow up on DHS OIG’s September 2018 report.
Our objective was to determine the effectiveness of DHS’ IT systems for
tracking detainees and supporting efforts to reunify UAC with their families.

                                   Results of Audit

DHS did not have the information technology (IT) system functionality needed
to track separated migrant families during the execution of the Zero Tolerance
Policy. U.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 DHS
implemented Zero Tolerance in May 2018. DHS also did not provide adequate
guidance to personnel responsible for executing the Zero Tolerance Policy.

14SpecialReview - Initial Observations Regarding Family Separation Issues Under the Zero
Tolerance Policy, OIG-18-84, September 2018
15 Unaccompanied Children: Agency Efforts to Reunify Children Separated from Parents at the

Border, GAO-19-163, October 2018
16 Separated Children Placed in Office of Refugee Resettlement Care, HHS, OEI-BL-00511,

January 2019

www.oig.dhs.gov                               7                              	      OIG-20-06
                      OFFICE OF INSPECTOR GENERAL
                           Department of Homeland Security


Because of these IT deficiencies, we could not confirm the total number of
families DHS separated during the Zero Tolerance period. DHS estimated that
Border Patrol agents separated 3,014 children from their families while the
policy was in place. DHS also estimated it had completed 2,155 reunifications
in response to a court order, although this effort continued for 7 months
beyond the July 2018 deadline for reunifying children with their parents.
However, we conducted a review of DHS data during the Zero Tolerance period
and identified 136 children with potential family relationships17 who were not
accurately recorded by CBP. In a broader analysis of DHS data between the
dates of October 1, 2017, to February 14, 2019, we identified an additional
1,233 children with potential family relationships not accurately recorded by
CBP.18 Without a reliable account of all family relationships, we could not
validate the total number of separations, or reunifications.

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.

DHS Lacked Adequate IT Functionality to Record and Track
Family Separations

DHS did not have the IT system functionality needed to accurately track and
account for the total number of families separated during the Zero Tolerance
Policy period. Border Patrol agents adopted ad hoc techniques to work around
the system limitations, but these techniques introduced data errors that
further hindered ICE ERO officers’ ability to track migrant parents separated
from their children. DHS was aware of these IT deficiencies prior to Zero
Tolerance Policy implementation, but IT modifications implemented in
preparation for the policy did not fully resolve the problems. DHS personnel
faced equally significant IT challenges interfacing and coordinating with HHS to
facilitate the transfers of thousands of children to ORR custody.




17
   The term potential family relationship is used because DHS OIG cannot confirm the family
relationship in each instance. CBP’s data suggests that there is a family relationship based on
name, age and being apprehended together. But in some circumstances CBP did not record the
child and adult as a family in their system or in case notes.
18 The audit team had access to all CBP apprehension data but did not have access to HHS or

U.S. Department of Justice data. Therefore, the review of potential family relationships did not
include analysis of HHS or U.S. Department of Justice data.

www.oig.dhs.gov                                8                                     OIG-20-06
                     OFFICE OF INSPECTOR GENERAL
                          Department of Homeland Security


DHS IT Systems Lacked the Functionality Needed to Effectively Record
and Track Family Units

Border Patrol and ICE ERO share a joint responsibility for processing
individuals apprehended between ports of entry. On average, Border Patrol
apprehended approximately 1,200 individuals per day during Zero Tolerance.
Although Federal law requires the Chief Information Officer of each agency to
develop and maintain a sound IT environment to ensure integration across IT
capabilities used for mission operations,19 DHS’ IT systems did not have the
functionality during Zero Tolerance to track and share data on family
separations and reunifications. Specifically, Border Patrol agents document
apprehensions, family status, and prosecutions in the e3 system for each
illegal entry. Next, ICE officers process adults for detention, removal, or
release, and facilitate UAC transfers to HHS, using the EARM system. Both
Border Patrol’s e3 and ICE’s EARM systems store and share data through a
back-end database, EID. This end-to-end process is depicted in figure 3.

         Figure 3: Systems Processing from Apprehension to Release




                            Source: OIG-generated from DHS data

The e3 system lacked critical capabilities to (1) separate grouped family
members, (2) track separations once a family unit was deleted from the e3
system, and (3) reunite family members.




 National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1996, Pub. L. No. 104–106, § 5125 (1996);
19

Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Memorandum 15-14, Management and Oversight of
Federal Information Technology, June 10, 2015

www.oig.dhs.gov                               9                                    OIG-20-06
                   OFFICE OF INSPECTOR GENERAL
                        Department of Homeland Security


Separating Family Members

The e3 system did not have built-in functionality to separate adults referred for
prosecution from a family unit. Instead, a Border Patrol agent had to delete
the entire family unit from e3 in order to process the family members as single
adult(s) and UAC. Once the family unit was deleted from the system, the agent
could no longer view or retrieve the family unit tracking number from e3. That
information remained stored separately in the back-end database, EID, but
was retrievable only by IT specialists at CBP headquarters. Figure 4 illustrates
how Border Patrol agents deleted family units in the e3 system.

                     Figure 4: Deleting a Family Unit in e3




      Source: Screenshot from CBP documentation following the e3 April 2018 update

Tracking Separations

Prior to April 2018, the e3 system did not provide Border Patrol field users the
ability to track separations once a family unit was deleted from e3, or identify
for headquarters personnel the reason why the family members were
separated. In addition, e3 did not have a search capability to match a child
and an adult by last name, age range, or apprehension date. In April 2018,
Border Patrol updated e3 to add 11 possible separation codes for agents to
select as distinct reasons why family members were separated. However, none
of the 11 separation codes were specifically tied to the Zero Tolerance Policy.
That is, agents did not have an option to select “Zero Tolerance” as a reason for
separating families. To compensate, Border Patrol agents used ad hoc
workarounds to capture the reasons for family separations by simply selecting
“Criminal History” or “Other Reasons,” as highlighted in table 2.




www.oig.dhs.gov                           10                                   OIG-20-06
                   OFFICE OF INSPECTOR GENERAL
                       Department of Homeland Security


    Table 2: Family Separation Reasons Added to e3 on April 19, 2018
        Separation                        Separation Reason
          Code
        ERR           FMUA made in error
        FCCO          Fraudulent Claim – Child determined to be over 18
        FCNR          Fraudulent Claim – No Family Relation (No prosecution)
        FCNFRP        Fraudulent Claim – No family relation (prosecution of adult)
        FMEW          Family Member – Extraditable Warrant
        FMGA          Family Member – Gang Affiliation
        FMH           Family Member Hospitalized
        FMPC          Family Member Prosecuted – Criminal History
        FMPO          Family Member Prosecuted – Other Reasons
        FMPIV         Family Member – Prior Immigration Violation(s) and order of removal
        FMT           Family Member – Terrorist
                         Source: OIG-generated from DHS data

Border Patrol then typed case notes, in narrative text form, into the e3 system
at the top of detainee case files, creating the only accessible record of separated
family members. CBP headquarters instructed Border Patrol agents across the
Southwest Border to use case notes to record information on separated family
members. Ideally, case notes typically included summaries on the individuals
apprehended, where and when they were apprehended, and with whom.

The downstream effect of ad hoc typing in case notes became apparent when
CBP headquarters began efforts to identify separated families needing
reunification after the policy ended in June 2018. To locate and reunify family
members, Border Patrol headquarters personnel had to review all separations
coded as “Criminal History” or “Other Reasons” in the system, as well as all the
accompanying case notes. This process was neither easy nor accurate.
Lacking critical IT tracking capability, Border Patrol immediately struggled to
keep pace with the high volume of migrant apprehensions and separations
resulting from Zero Tolerance. They also could not determine how many
children in Border Patrol custody were separated from parent(s) at any given
time.

Reuniting Family Members

DHS’ IT systems could not electronically rejoin previously deleted family
members. Specifically, Border Patrol’s e3 system did not have automated
capability to restore the families previously deleted if the individual members
were eventually reunited at CBP facilities. Instead, Border Patrol agents had to
process the parents and their children together again in e3, assign new family
unit numbers (potentially duplicating records), and further annotate the case
files to state that family members were reunified. Similarly, when ICE ERO
officers reunified families at detention centers, they reprocessed the parents for



www.oig.dhs.gov                             11                                       OIG-20-06
                   OFFICE OF INSPECTOR GENERAL
                       Department of Homeland Security


release and noted the reunifications in EARM case comments and on Microsoft
Excel spreadsheets.

Manual, Ad Hoc Family Tracking Introduced Widespread Data Errors

Border Patrol personnel inadvertently entered incorrect codes to indicate
reasons for family separations, or incorrectly assigned children and adults to
family units. Data errors were so extensive that a Border Patrol Chief
expressed embarrassment at the number of inaccuracies documented by field
personnel. The following are examples of the various challenges stemming
from CBP’s inability to account for separations consistently in e3:

   x   Creating family units: Upon initial apprehension processing, Border
       Patrol agents incorrectly created family units for individuals who were
       not parent/child. Our review of DHS data disclosed 270 instances where
       family units were created in error.

   x   Recording family separations: Border Patrol personnel incorrectly entered
       the codes indicating the reason for separation. In other instances,
       agents separately processed parents as single adults and their children
       as UAC at initial intake, never recognizing them in the system as
       members of the same family, making it exceedingly difficult to track and
       reunify them afterward. We identified nearly 300 individuals whom
       Border Patrol incorrectly processed in this manner.

   x   Separating family members using multiple codes: Border Patrol
       personnel selected multiple separation codes when deleting a single
       family unit, causing confusion for ICE headquarters personnel who later
       attempted to track the separations by specific, individual codes. Border
       Patrol’s list of separations from e3 contained 62 detainees with multiple
       separation reason codes. But, only one separation reason code was
       needed to identify each detainee to avoid conflicting information.

In instances when DHS had no data at all on family separations, DHS only
discovered these separations when HHS or nonprofit entities advocating on
behalf of the UAC notified the Department. For example, in one case, an
Arizona-based nonprofit organization contacted DHS about a deaf minor who
had been separated from his father by Border Patrol. Upon ICE’s review, the
child’s official case record discussed neither the separation nor the child’s
disability. In other instances, UAC records in the ICE system had incomplete
or inaccurate information on separated family members.

These tracking challenges worsened when Border Patrol field personnel at
various locations used different ad hoc methods to track detainees. For

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example, Border Patrol agents in a Texas sector with one of the highest
volumes of apprehensions in the country opted to create separation lists using
Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. However, local Border Patrol leadership noted
this approach created additional problems, as they were not able to use the
spreadsheets easily to report on separation statistics when headquarters
requested they do so. The spreadsheets also contained inaccuracies as they
were not designed for large-scale processing.

Staff at another Texas Border Patrol sector contacted IT support at
headquarters for assistance with tracking and reporting on family separations
during Zero Tolerance. At the time, field staff were unable to identify adults
held for prosecution who were separated from accompanying children.
However, headquarters also did not have centralized information on the
number of family separations occurring in each sector to assist the field.
Instead, headquarters personnel had to create a specific report based on the
sector’s requests for family separation data and distribute it daily.
Headquarters staff acknowledged that they had received similar requests for
assistance in tracking separations from other sectors.

Inability to Properly Record Family Units Hindered Detainee Tracking

Border Patrol’s lack of uniform processing of apprehended migrants and
numerous data entry errors had a significant downstream effect on ICE, which
was responsible for tracking individuals detained, released, or transferred to
HHS. ICE’s challenges stemmed from (1) a lack of understanding of the
separation codes Border Patrol used, and (2) inadequate information provided
by Border Patrol in some e3 case records.

   1) The family separation data recorded in e3 by Border Patrol was often
      indecipherable for ERO headquarters personnel responsible for
      generating reports from system data. Specifically, ICE did not
      understand the 11 new codes, described in table 2, that Border Patrol
      began using in April 2018 when separating family members. Without
      this information, ICE ERO personnel were unable to identify which
      adults in their custody had actually been separated from their children.

   2) ICE was also hindered from properly tracking separated families because
      Border Patrol did not always include in its e3 documentation the
      necessary information on family separations. At a detention center in
      Texas, ICE officers said the majority of the official records they reviewed
      had no information on parents separated from their children. Officers
      said that often they only became aware of separated family members
      when a parent in custody asked about his or her separated child.
      Officers said they typically determined family members had been

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         separated by searching through records for lists of individuals
         apprehended together.

To address these concerns, ICE personnel asked Border Patrol to note each
family separation at the top of the official narrative case record in e3. However,
Border Patrol did not consistently capture this information as requested. We
reviewed a random sample of Border Patrol records on 339 adult parents
separated from children during Zero Tolerance enforcement. Of the records
reviewed, only 139 (41 percent) of the 339 contained family separation
information at the top of the case files. Further, 208 (61 percent) contained
partial biographical information about separated children and 71 (21 percent)
had no information at all on separated children.20 To compensate, some ICE
field officers established local procedures to track family separations during
Zero Tolerance. These tracking methods included adding narrative text
comments to migrant case files or flagging files in the EARM system.

ICE’s office responsible for processing UAC and families requested
headquarters make changes to the EARM system to track separations in early
2018, before Zero Tolerance. Discussions concerning system upgrades to
address tracking needs continued for months. During Zero Tolerance, ICE
officers escalated concerns to headquarters about a lack of data consistency
and stated that the EARM system did not include a place to note family
separations. However, ICE system upgrades to aid in tracking family
separations were not completed until August 2018, after the Zero Tolerance
Policy ended.

IT Deficiencies Pre-dated Zero Tolerance Policy Implementation

CBP headquarters personnel had been aware of the various system deficiencies
related to tracking family separations since at least the El Paso initiative in
2017 that mirrored Zero Tolerance. During this initiative DHS and the
Department of Justice coordinated to increase prosecutions of illegal entry in
the El Paso Sector, including individuals entering with their families. We could
not determine the origin of the initiative. Through increased prosecutions,
Border Patrol separated nearly 280 families — an increase from prosecuting 0
percent of adults with a family the month before the initiative began to
prosecuting15 percent during the initiative.

However, Border Patrol’s e3 system did not have the functionality to track
family separations at that time. El Paso Sector agents requested assistance
from CBP headquarters, but the necessary system changes were not made.
According to Border Patrol headquarters personnel, El Paso Sector’s request for


20   The numbers and percentages do not add here because some cases had more than one error.

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e3 functionality to track family separations was not a high enough priority to
warrant the time and resources required for system modifications.

As during Zero Tolerance, Border Patrol personnel relied on local spreadsheets
to document family separations during the El Paso initiative. However, having
to input information manually into spreadsheets increased the likelihood of
errors, which in turn complicated efforts to match and reunite separated
families after Zero Tolerance ended. For example, of the nearly 280 families
separated during the El Paso initiative, at least 7 adults had incorrect alien
case file numbers21 on the tracking spreadsheets and 33 others recorded no
information at all on family separations. The use of spreadsheets in the field,
rather than recording information in department-wide systems, prevented ICE
and CBP personnel in other locations from seeing where El Paso Sector Border
Patrol agents had separated family members.

CBP leadership noted the sensitivity of family separations and recommended
improved coordination among CBP, ICE, and HHS officials during the El Paso
initiative to mitigate issues associated with family separations and placement
of separated children. In November 2017, in an email to CBP’s Acting
Commissioner and ICE’s Acting Director, a senior HHS ORR official identified
an increased number of detained migrant children needing placement. The
Acting Commissioner responded that CBP would coordinate with HHS on
future plans for family separations. Around the same time, CBP headquarters
instructed the El Paso Sector to halt the initiative. After it did so, the El Paso
Sector provided an after-action report to Border Patrol’s Acting Chief of
Operations calling for greater coordination among the various stakeholders.
The following year, the same Acting Chief assisted in implementing Zero
Tolerance and was aware of the need for improved coordination among CBP,
ICE, and HHS ORR to address the known challenges encountered in separating
migrant families.

DHS Faced Additional Challenges Interfacing with HHS to Track Transfers
of Unaccompanied Children

DHS personnel faced equally significant challenges interfacing and
coordinating with HHS to facilitate transfers of thousands of UAC to ORR
custody during Zero Tolerance. The Homeland Security Act of 2002 assigned
responsibility for care and custody of unaccompanied children to HHS.
However, DHS did not have an automated process to request transfer of a child
in CBP custody to HHS. Instead, Border Patrol agents pressed a referral
request button in e3 that transmitted an encrypted email to HHS’ UAC Portal
requesting transfer for each separated child. All subsequent communication

21
  An alien number is a unique DHS-generated identification number for non-citizens applying
for immigration benefits or subject to law enforcement actions.

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after the initial system request had to be communicated directly between DHS
juvenile coordinators22 and HHS personnel by email. For a routine case,
coordinators typically send and receive five or more emails to place just one
child in ORR custody. To illustrate:

     1. Border Patrol sends an email requesting transfer of a UAC to ORR.
     2. ORR sends an email confirming that placement is arranged.
     3. The transportation contractor sends an email facilitating travel details for
        the transfer.
     4. The transportation contractor sends another email including the travel
        itinerary.
     5. Border Patrol emails back, acknowledging receipt of the child’s travel
        information. ICE ERO is copied on the emails so it can track the UAC.
     6. ICE ERO directly inputs Placement Requests.

     The process, end-to-end, is depicted in figure 5.

     Figure 5: Manual Processes for Requesting UAC Placement with HHS




                           Source: OIG-generated from DHS data

Monitoring multiple emails for each child was labor intensive, and emails were
received at all hours of the day. One Border Patrol agent estimated that in a 1-
week period, she received 1,700 emails regarding UAC placement. At one field

22 Juvenile coordinators are CBP and ICE personnel whose responsibilities include UAC
transfers.

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site we visited, Border Patrol had a team of five agents monitoring email
exchanges between HHS and a transportation contractor regarding the
placement of UAC. Border Patrol staff expressed concerns that reliance on
email to share travel details further complicated tracking of UAC transfers and
resulted in errors, such as Border Patrol receiving incorrect travel itineraries
for some children. To compensate, Border Patrol had to manually compare
emails against information in the HHS UAC Portal and then manually input the
correct travel data into e3. More concerning, because referral requests were
not automated, requests never reached HHS when the encrypted email transfer
from e3 to the UAC portal went down, adding to the backlog of UAC in Border
Patrol’s custody.

ICE ERO field offices also became overwhelmed with the manual work
associated with facilitating UAC placement and updating EARM to track UAC
placement. During Zero Tolerance, ICE officers estimated that they received up
to 300 emails per day. Multiple ICE ERO field office juvenile coordinators we
interviewed in Texas during our November 2018 fieldwork stated their full-time
jobs entailed monitoring placement of children in different HHS facilities and
conducting multiple manual processes to update ICE systems. Specifically,
after receiving transfer email notifications, officers manually transferred
juveniles using the following steps:

   1. copying the information from transfer emails manually into a Microsoft
      Excel spreadsheet;
   2. using the Microsoft Excel spreadsheets to update UAC location 

      information in EARM; and 

   3. generating a report in Microsoft Excel from EARM to manually cross
      check against the UAC Portal.

Without automated transfer capability or electronic tracking of UAC transferred
to HHS, DHS had to employ various mechanisms to manage this process. Both
Border Patrol and ICE personnel relied on spreadsheets as their primary
method to track UAC awaiting placement with HHS and to share information
with headquarters about children in custody at any given time. To supplement
manual logs, one Border Patrol station also used a basic whiteboard, which
could accidentally be erased. These methods were susceptible to error and
were inadequate to keep pace with the high volume of transfers taking place
during the Zero Tolerance Policy, averaging more than 64 per day.

DHS Did Not Address IT Deficiencies or Provide Guidance and
Standard Procedures Prior to Zero Tolerance Implementation

In early May 2018, CBP provided the Office of Management Budget (OMB) with
estimates that it would separate more than 26,000 children between May and

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September 2018 because of Zero Tolerance. However, prior to policy
implementation, DHS did not address deficiencies recognized and documented
in 2017 that could potentially hamper the ability to track separated families.
Border Patrol and ICE guidance to field personnel charged with executing the
policy was deficient. DHS also did not address several procedural challenges
that would make the family reunification process difficult. Figure 6 shows
major milestones surrounding the Zero Tolerance period.

                Figure 6: Major Zero Tolerance Policy Milestones




                    Source: OIG-Generated based on data provided by DHS

DHS Did Not Address IT Deficiencies Prior to the Zero Tolerance Policy

On May 4, 2018, the DHS Secretary approved the adoption of the Zero
Tolerance Policy based on the outcome of the 2017 El Paso initiative, which
CBP claimed had reduced family apprehensions by 64 percent.23 However, DHS
did not first confirm whether the various technology-related challenges
documented and reported from the El Paso initiative had been resolved. In
fact, on May 4, 2018, the same day the Secretary signed the memorandum
implementing the Zero Tolerance Policy, Border Patrol instructed field personnel
to use spreadsheets to track separations because e3 system changes were still
pending. One senior CBP official who participated in Zero Tolerance Policy
planning meetings stated that key stakeholders had pressured DHS to




 The Zero Tolerance Policy was signed on May 4, 2018, and officially went into effect on May 5,
23

2018.

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implement the policy in early May 2018 before identified deficiencies in e3 were
resolved.24

Federal law and departmental guidance require effective planning to ensure the
success of IT development efforts.25 System enhancements to implement new
functionality, such as adding capability to track family separations in e3,
typically take months to develop, test, and deploy. However, DHS implemented
Zero Tolerance 3 months before deploying needed system enhancements in
August 2018. Specifically, Border Patrol restructured e3 to add new features
for recording the separation and reunification of family members, as well as
tracking UAC time in custody, but the new features were not implemented until
August 2018, nearly 2 months after the Zero Tolerance Policy was terminated.
Figure 7 depicts the new functionality added to e3.

        Figure 7: Updates to e3 to Track Separation and Reunification
                       of Migrant Family Units (FMUA)




                         Source: Screenshot from CBP documentation

Similarly, ICE did not deploy updates to track family separations until August
2018, almost 2 months after Zero Tolerance ended. ICE updated EARM to
allow its data analysts access to Border Patrol separation reasons codes and to
enable ICE headquarters to run reports on Border Patrol separations.
The new functionality added to e3 and EARM in August 2018, after Zero
Tolerance ended, provided CBP and ICE personnel with better visibility of

24 A DHS participant provided meeting invitations for the Principals Coordination Committee,

which included representatives of the U.S. Department of Defense, HHS, DHS, U.S.

Department of Justice, OMB, and the Executive Office of the President.

25 National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1996, Pub. L. No. 104–106 (1996) Div. E,


Clinger-Cohen Act; and DHS 102-01, Acquisition Management Directive, Revision 3, Instruction

Appendix B, July 28, 2015


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family separations as they occurred.26 The separations were indicated in both
systems through flags that alerted agents and officers that a detainee was part
of a separated family. For example, when Border Patrol separated a family unit
in e3, a flag appeared in the shared database, EID. At the same time, this
indicator was transmitted to ICE ERO’s system where it provided a yellow
banner alert in an alien’s file. The banner alerted ICE officers that an
individual in custody was separated from his or her family, as shown in
figure 8.

                   Figure 8: Family Separation Banner in EARM




                          Source: Screenshot from ICE documentation

While the system flag increased awareness of family separations, it did not
provide any supporting details or give ICE officers the ability to update or
remove the flag if detainees were reunified with family members. For example,
a senior ERO official in the field noted that a detainee previously deported with
his family was apprehended a second time for attempting to illegally re-enter
the country alone. The banner on his case file remained from the previous
family separation. As a result, ICE officers had to conduct additional research
to confirm whether the detainee was currently part of a separated family unit
and thus eligible for reunification through HHS. The senior ERO official was
unaware of how a banner might be removed, or whether that was permitted.

DHS and HHS Did Not Address Data Sharing Challenges

DHS did not begin discussing with HHS its approach for sharing information
on family separations until April 2018 when a working group meeting was
convened among policy stakeholders from various Federal agencies.27 On April
13, 2018, DHS and HHS signed a Memorandum of Agreement on consultation
and information sharing practices between the two departments, including an
agreement to share documentation to assist HHS ORR with UAC placement
decisions. However, DHS and HHS staff disagreed on what information, such

26
   CBP may still separate a family if a determination is made that the parent is unfit or presents

a danger to the child.

27
   Participants in the April 2018 working group meetings included U.S. Department of Defense,

U.S. Department of Justice, HHS, and the Executive Office of the President.

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as criminal history, should be shared on parents of children needing placement
with ORR. DHS and HHS made only limited progress in finding an automated
approach to sharing separation data after the policy ended. In July 2018, after
Zero Tolerance ended, HHS added more fields to annotate in juvenile referral
requests on its UAC Portal that a child had been separated from his or her
parents. The system change included the addition of a checkbox showing a
child separated from a parent as illustrated in figure 9. HHS also added a field
to the juvenile referral request allowing Border Patrol personnel to include the
separated parent’s alien number.

              Figure 9: Separation Checkbox Added to UAC Portal




                        Source: Screenshot from CBP Documentation

Despite these system enhancements, efforts to fully automate data exchange
between DHS and HHS were unsuccessful. In October 2018, Border Patrol IT
staff attempted to work with HHS to implement a direct exchange of separation
data from e3 to the UAC Portal; however, HHS system maintenance prevented
the update. As of February 2019, e3 still did not automatically notify HHS of
family separations, and HHS staff had to select the checkbox manually in its
system based on Border Patrol’s emailed notes. ICE ERO also continued to
input information manually to the UAC Portal and use text fields to add
detailed information. As recently as March 2019, CBP’s Commissioner stated
in congressional testimony that CBP IT systems still needed improvements to
track separated children effectively.28

Insufficient Guidance to the Field on Tracking Family Separations

Border Patrol and ICE headquarters did not provide adequate guidance to field
personnel to ensure successful implementation of the Zero Tolerance Policy.
OMB requires that users of Federal IT resources have the skills, knowledge,



28United States Congress. Senate Judiciary Committee, Hearing on Oversight of Customs and
Border Protection’s Response to the Smuggling of Persons at the Southern Border, March 6, 2019

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and training needed to be effective.29 However, CBP provided guidance to
Border Patrol field personnel after separations had already begun. Specifically,
on May 7, 2018, Border Patrol sent a memo and a 14-page presentation to field
personnel instructing them on how to document family separations in Border
Patrol IT systems. The presentation included steps on how to create,
temporarily separate, or delete a family unit in e3. However, no accompanying
system-based training was provided. The guidance also was not consistently
communicated to staff responsible for carrying out these job duties. Some staff
did not receive the guidance until several days after the policy was
implemented. Meanwhile, Border Patrol agents made a number of errors
within the first few days of Zero Tolerance Policy implementation, such as
incorrectly entering eight separated children into the system without indicating
they were from a family unit.

Border Patrol headquarters also did not distribute procedural guidance and
guidelines for achieving 100-percent prosecutions for all illegal migrants until
the night before Zero Tolerance began. On May 4, 2018, a Border Patrol Chief
at headquarters sent a memo to each sector with estimates on Border Patrol’s
ability to meet 100-percent prosecutions as the policy intended. The memo
listed which sectors should reach 100-percent prosecutions immediately and
which ones should slowly ramp up to prosecuting all detainees. The memo
instructed sectors to prioritize referring single adults with criminal histories
over adults in family units. Lastly, the memo required weekly reporting on
detainee prosecution statistics. However, Border Patrol headquarters
personnel admitted they did not consistently track reporting metrics from the
sectors, and had no way of validating that sectors adhered to the prioritization
guidelines.

In addition, Border Patrol did not effectively provide sectors with instruction on
which children should be separated from their parents. On June 4, 2018,
Border Patrol headquarters instructed Southwest Border sectors to stop
separating children 12 years old and younger from their parents because of
ORR capacity issues. However, some sectors continued to separate children
younger than 12 through the end of Zero Tolerance on June 20, 2018.
Following the June 4, 2018 instructions, Border Patrol separated almost 400
additional children 12 years old and younger, 15 of whom were 4 years of age
or younger, risking detaining them longer than allowed in temporary holding
facilities unsuited for children.

Border Patrol headquarters personnel stated that various factors may have
hindered dissemination of family separation guidance. For example, Border
Patrol agents did not always have the computer access they needed in the field

29OMB Circular A-130, Managing Information as a Strategic Resource, Section 5(c)(3), July 28,
2016

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to review headquarters guidance. One Border Patrol Chief at headquarters
stated that it was common for Border Patrol field personnel to hold different job
responsibilities for weeks at a time. As a result, they might not be aware of e3
processing updates because they did not consistently use the system. The
same Border Patrol Chief attributed some of the UAC tracking challenges to a
lack of a training. This official expressed concern that, despite having 21,000
personnel, Border Patrol lacked a central office at headquarters to provide IT
training to the field.

Like Border Patrol, ICE also did not provide adequate communication to
prepare field personnel prior to Zero Tolerance Policy implementation. ICE
personnel had direct responsibility for detaining and removing parents and
tracking UAC. Yet many ICE headquarters and field personnel we interviewed
stated they first learned through unofficial channels the policy was in place.
Most ICE personnel stated they received no direct communication prior to
policy implementation, either through ICE’s chain of command or through
formal Department communication. ICE headquarters confirmed it did not
broadcast information on Zero Tolerance Policy implementation to the field
because it believed the policy would only affect CBP operations. One ICE ERO
manager at headquarters said she would have provided prepared messaging on
Zero Tolerance if she had been aware beforehand that the policy would be
implemented.

DHS Lacked Standard Procedures for Reunifications

Prior to Zero Tolerance implementation, the Department did not establish a
plan for how CBP, ICE, and HHS would successfully reunify separated family
members. As a result, ICE ERO personnel were not prepared to deal with the
myriad of nuanced circumstances surrounding family separations. For
example, personnel at one field office complained to ICE and CBP headquarters
that they lacked guidance on how to address instances when a parent awaiting
deportation did not want to be reunited with his or her child prior to
deportation. Personnel at a different ICE field office were unaware of a policy
on reuniting a parent with a child already placed with a sponsor. Some ICE
personnel put the onus on the parents, stating the plan was for parents to
request reunification with their children prior to deportation. Alternatively, if a
parent was released from ICE custody into the United States, the parent was
expected to contact ORR to coordinate reunification independently.

DHS’ process for reunifying migrant families evolved over time. For example,
on June 8, 2018, CBP began distributing informational flyers to detained
parents on how to reunite with their children. However, as the OIG reported in




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September 2018,30 these flyers were not consistently distributed or properly
displayed. Moreover, in mid-June 2018, a week before the Zero Tolerance
Policy ended, the CBP Commissioner instructed field personnel to update the
flyer to provide additional information to parents on how to contact separated
family members in ORR custody.

Issues with tracking separated children and reunification procedures prompted
the creation of a joint ICE-HHS working group in early June 2018. The
working group met to share information among ICE juvenile coordinators and
HHS ORR personnel responsible for custody and care of UAC. Although
Federal courts ordered family reunifications in late June 2018 for completion in
late July, DHS and HHS did not develop a reunification plan to support efforts
to meet this timeframe. As of March 2019, the working group still did not have
a formal reunification plan in place.

This poor family reunification planning mirrored what occurred during the
2017 El Paso initiative. In a July 2017 draft memo, El Paso Sector
management acknowledged concerns from local judges that Border Patrol,
ERO, and ORR needed a coordinated reunification plan for rejoining and
repatriating families. However, they never developed a plan and children
separated under the El Paso initiative could have remained separated from
their parents for long periods. One HHS official stated he first became aware of
family separations in August 2017 during the El Paso initiative when CBP
transferred an infant to ORR. The infant was not reunited with her mother for
at least six months.

DHS Could Not Accurately Account for Separated Families or
Accomplish Reunifications as Mandated

In light of DHS’ IT systems deficiencies, CBP’s official system of record31
contained incomplete data and too many errors to reach a conclusive or
accurate count of all families separated during Zero Tolerance. We tried, but
could not confirm the accuracy of Border Patrol’s reported estimate that 3,014
children were separated during the policy period. We conducted a review of
DHS’ data during the Zero Tolerance period and identified 136 children with
potential family relationships that were not accurately recorded by CBP, which
could result in unrecorded family separations. In a broader analysis of DHS
data between October 1, 2017, and February 14, 2019, we identified an
additional 1,233 children with potential family relationships not accurately
recorded by CBP. DHS also estimated it had completed 2,155 reunifications in

30 Special Review – Initial Observations Regarding Family Separation Issues Under the Zero
Tolerance Policy, OIG-18-84, September 2018
31 A system of record is an information system that is the authoritative source for a particular

data element in a system containing multiple sources of the same element.

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response to Ms. L. v. ICE, although this effort continued for 7 months beyond
the July 2018 deadline for reunifying children with their parents. Without a
reliable account of all family relationships, we cannot confirm that DHS has
identified all family separations, and therefore, we cannot determine whether
DHS and HHS have reunified these families.

Inability to Accurately Identify Total Number of Children Separated from
Their Families

Border Patrol’s official system of record, e3, contained too many incomplete
records and errors to enable CBP to reach a conclusive or accurate count of all
families separated during Zero Tolerance. From June to July 2018, Border
Patrol conducted detailed reviews of the e3 system data in attempts to
determine the total number of separations that occurred during the Zero
Tolerance period. To separate a family apprehended during the Zero Tolerance
policy, as noted earlier, Border Patrol agents would first create a family unit,
then delete the family unit. When deleting the family unit number, agents
added a “FMPO” or “FMPC” separation code (as described in table 2) to notate a
separation due to the policy. However, family separations could not always be
identified because agents did not consistently record family units in the system
prior to separation, as discussed earlier in this report.

Without accurate system data to track family separations, DHS and HHS were
forced to attempt manual counts to confirm the familial status of hundreds of
detainees and children. Starting in June 2018, DHS and HHS established a
joint operation center staffed with DHS and HHS personnel working together to
review data to account for separations. Using this approach, the joint
operations center attempted to compare and reconcile all individuals for whom
Border Patrol had no records as belonging to families. Specifically, Border
Patrol provided to HHS a list of 5,657 adults and children recorded as
separated during Zero Tolerance. HHS analysts then reviewed HHS’ and CBP’s
raw data to identify children in ORR custody who should have been identified
as members of family units, based on adults with consecutive alien numbers,
same last names, and same dates of entry to the United States. HHS personnel
told us they also interviewed or reviewed files for all 11,800 children in their
custody at that time to further identify family separations.

After DHS and HHS completed their reviews, Border Patrol estimates of
separated families increased from 5,657 to 5,855. By July 2018, Border Patrol
had added 291 previously unaccounted for adults and children to its original
list of 5,657 family separations. Of the 291, 225 were identified by HHS
because Border Patrol had not originally recorded these 225 detainees as
members of family units (as discussed previously in this report), so there were
no deleted family unit numbers to track. Border Patrol also identified 93

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detainees on its initial June 2018 separation list who were either incorrectly
classified as members of family units, or who were never actually separated. In
some instances, HHS recorded family separations based on its own analysis,
but Border Patrol could not confirm the separations due to a lack of
information in the e3 system and case notes.

Border Patrol and HHS Discrepancies

In addition to data errors, we found discrepancies between Border Patrol and
HHS family separation counts. As of July 2018, Border Patrol’s final count of
separated children was 3,014, but the tally in August 2018 from HHS and DHS
combined was 12 percent lower, at 2,654.32 These numbers did not match for
two reasons:

     1. Border Patrol’s final count of 3,014 children, as of July 2018, included
        an additional 530 children who had been reunified with their families in
        CBP facilities and never transferred to HHS.

     2. Border Patrol and HHS timeframes for tracking separated children
        differed. Specifically, while CBP included all family separations that
        occurred during Zero Tolerance (May 5 to June 20, 2018,) HHS looked for
        any separated child in ORR custody as of June 26, 2018.

        To illustrate, we were able to identify an additional 43 children that
        Border Patrol separated from before Zero Tolerance (April 19 to May 4,
        2018) that were not included in Border Patrols’ list provided to HHS. We
        were also able to identify an additional 26 children from after Zero
        Tolerance (June 20 to August 30, 2018) that were not included in Border
        Patrols’ list provided to HHS.33

By looking for any separated child in ORR custody as of June 26, 2018, HHS
identified additional potential separations that occurred before and during Zero
Tolerance. Table 3 depicts the total number of family separations identified by
HHS, but not included in Border Patrol’s final count.




32
   This is the final count of family separations cited in Ms. L. v. ICE, 18-cv-428 (S.D. Cal. August 

30, 2018).

33
   Of the total 69 additional children we found separated, 25 children were included on the Ms. 

L. Class list. However, we could not confirm the total number of children included on the Ms.
L. Class list due to missing Alien numbers.

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        Table 3: HHS Identified Potential Family Separations Not Included
                         in Border Patrol’s Final Count
                                              Dates of                     Included in
         Potential Separations
                                        Potential Separation     Count      the Ms. L.
          Discovered by HHS
                                                                             class list
 Potential Separations Before Zero      July 22, 2013 – May 4,       394        285
 Tolerance                                       2018
 Potential Separations During Zero      May 5 – June 20, 2018        302       129
 Tolerance

                                                        Total        696      414
                               Source: OIG-generated from DHS data

The 302 children HHS identified may have been separated by Border Patrol,
OFO, or ICE ERO. CBP confirmed the following points regarding the 302
potential separations:

   x   A 4-year-old child was a Zero Tolerance separation, but was not
       identified by Border Patrol because of a user processing error. The OIG
       confirmed the child was included in the Ms. L. class list.
   x   A 1-year-old child was traveling with her mother who was younger than
       18. Because the mother was a minor herself, CBP does not consider this
       a family unit separation. The OIG confirmed this child was ultimately
       included in the Ms. L. class list.
   x   CBP could not confirm whether a 2-year-old child listed as separated by
       HHS was a Zero Tolerance separation because Border Patrol did not
       capture enough information in e3. The OIG confirmed this child was
       ultimately included in the Ms. L. class list.
   x   CBP could not confirm whether a 3-year-old child listed as separated by
       HHS was a Zero Tolerance separation because Border Patrol did not
       capture enough information in e3. The OIG confirmed this child was not
       included in the Ms. L. class list provided during fieldwork.

OIG Analysis Identified Possible Family Separations Undetected by CBP

Due to the number of errors Border Patrol made in recording family
separations, we determined that there was a high risk that DHS did not
account for all separated children. To confirm this, the OIG’s Data Analytics
team conducted an independent analysis of DHS’ apprehension data,
disclosing hundreds of possible family relationships that CBP had not recorded
in its systems. As previously discussed, Border Patrol reported that 3,014
children were separated from their families during the Zero Tolerance Policy
period. However, our analysis determined that the number of family

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separations during the policy period may be greater than what DHS reported
because it is difficult to account for a family separation without first recording
a family relationship. Based on our analysis we found a total 1,369 potential
family relationships not recorded by Border Patrol.

                      To determine whether more than the reported number of
                      migrant family separations took place during Zero
                      Tolerance, we conducted a targeted search of DHS
     During Zero      apprehension data, pinpointing all instances from May 5,
     Tolerance:       2018, to June 20, 2018, when adults and children
     May 5 - June     apprehended together, had common last names,34 and were
     20, 2018         between 16 to 40 years apart (suggesting possible
                      parent/child relationships). We found 136 children with
                      potential family relationships that were not recorded by
                      Border Patrol during this period.

We broadened the timeframes of our analysis, recognizing that some
separations occurred outside of the Zero Tolerance period. The following
children were separated from parents referred for prosecution either prior to
Zero Tolerance Policy implementation or immediately after it ended.

     Expanded         Using the same approach, we searched for potential
     Scope:           separations between October 1, 2017 and February 14,
     October 1,       2019. We found 1,233 minors with potential family
     2017 -           relationships uncounted by DHS, including 584 before Zero
     February 14,
                      Tolerance, and 649 after Zero Tolerance — in addition to
     2019:
                      the 136 minors discovered during Zero Tolerance, whom
                      Border Patrol apprehended, potentially with their family
                      members, but who were not included in DHS’ reported
                      numbers of family units or groups.35 Despite these
                      indicators in the data, we found no record in DHS’ system
                      that these 1,233 minors were part of family units or groups.

Table 4 reflects the total number of potential family relationships not recorded
by CBP before, during, and after Zero Tolerance Policy.




34 Of the 3,014 children Border Patrol identified as separated, 99.7 percent were from Latin
American countries. Therefore, the audit team used traditional Latin American naming
conventions to determine “common last names” among apprehensions, which consists of
mother’s maiden name-father’s surname.
35 Without reviewing the official narrative for each of these cases, this data could include false

positives or relatives who do not meet the DHS definition of a family unit, which is limited to an
adult over 18 who is the legal guardian or parent of a child under 18.

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   Table 4: OIG Identified Potential Family Relationships Not Recorded 

            Before, During, and After the Zero Tolerance Policy

                                                            Dates of
         Description of OIG Finding                                             Count
                                                    Potential Separation
  Potential Family Relationships Not Recorded     Oct. 1, 2017 – May 4, 2018     584
  by Border Patrol Before Zero Tolerance

  Potential Family Relationships Not Recorded      May 5 – June 20, 2018         136
  by Border Patrol During Zero Tolerance

  Potential Family Relationships Not Recorded   June 21, 2018 – Feb. 14, 2019    649
  by Border Patrol After Zero Tolerance

                                                                       Total    1,369
                           Source: OIG-generated from DHS data

Methodology for OIG Analysis of Possible Family Relationships

We sent three samples of names to Border Patrol to conduct further analysis:

   x	 In April 2019, we provided a sample list of 25 children found using this
      methodology; however, we did not receive a response from CBP.

   x	 After the issuance of the draft report for this audit, we provided a new set
      of 34 children identified using this methodology. In response, CBP
      confirmed that from this sample, DHS had in fact separated two children
      not included on Border Patrol’s list of Zero Tolerance separations. CBP
      also confirmed that the remaining 32 children were not separated from
      both parents. In many of these cases, the children remained with their
      mother while separated from their father. Because CBP does not
      consider a child who remains with one parent a family separation, and
      because these children were recorded as being in a family unit with at
      least one parent, we refined our methodology to only include children
      with no family relationship recorded at all. Based on the results of this
      analysis, we changed our methodology to eliminate instances where a
      child was put into a family unit with one parent, while potentially being
      separated from the other parent or another family member.

   x	 Using this refined methodology, we sent a second sample of 39 children
      to CBP for review. In response, CBP confirmed that from this sample of
      39, DHS had separated five children not included in Border Patrol’s list
      of Zero Tolerance separations. One of these five separations included a
      child separated immediately after Zero Tolerance ended, who had no case
      notes to indicate a family separation. Working with a CBP analyst, we

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       identified another five cases from the sample of 39 that were incorrectly
       processed. In each of the five cases, a child was not properly recorded as
       being part of a family unit or group. In these cases, the child stayed with
       family or siblings and was removed from the country. In the remaining
       29 cases, we could not confirm whether the child was traveling with a
       family member, or whether the family simply did not alert Border Patrol
       agents that they were traveling together. In some cases, a family may
       not alert CBP personnel of a family relationship.36 This methodology is
       reflected in Table 4.

We are concerned that if DHS did not properly record all family information in
its IT systems, it may have underestimated and may not be able to determine
accurately the number of family separations that occurred from October 2017
to February 2019. OIG’s ability to identify almost 1,400 instances of potential
family relationships not properly recorded or accounted for by DHS indicates
that the Department may not have properly analyzed its own e3 data from the
Zero Tolerance Policy period. For example, DHS may have missed separations if
it only reviewed records identified as deleted family units, rather than reviewing
all apprehensions to identify individuals not properly recorded as family units,
or individuals misclassified as family groups. As discussed previously in the
report, such errors were common. In a follow-up meeting post-fieldwork, a
Border Patrol Chief stated that Border Patrol was already reviewing thousands
of additional potential separations provided by HHS due to the expansion of the
Ms. L. case. The Chief stated that Border Patrol was using a process similar to
OIG’s methodology to find potential separations, then reviewing case notes to
confirm these separations.

In addition to our analysis of Border Patrol data, DHS OIG also reviewed OFO’s
family separation data. OFO reported 74 family separations for all of FY 2018.
However, our review of its data from October 2017 to February 2019 revealed
additional potential unrecorded family relationships. Similar to our analysis of
the Border Patrol data, we matched minors against adults applying for asylum,
or who crossed a port of entry without legal documents on the same date, with
shared last names and an age difference between 16 and 40 years. Our review
disclosed possible cases of minors who had the same last names and
apprehension dates as accompanying adults, but who were not listed by OFO
as family units.37 It should be noted that OFO does not record family groups;


36Cases of parental omission are not errors introduced by CBP.
37
  The potential OFO cases include individuals applying for asylum or those who did not have
documents when entering the United States through a legal port of entry. These potential
cases did not include individuals who entered legal ports of entry under other categories such
as those who were United States citizens, legal permanent residents, or who had a border-
crossing card. The OIG may conduct follow-up work to determine the nature of OFO’s
potential underreporting.

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so, many of these potential family relations not recorded in SIGMA may be
minors traveling with extended family members.

DHS Did Not Meet Court-Mandated Reunification Deadlines

DHS did not fulfill a June 26, 2018 court order to identify and reunify all
children in ORR custody by July 26, 2018. In response to the court order,
HHS immediately began a concerted data-sharing effort with DHS to reunite
children younger than age 5 with their families within 14 days, and children 5
years old and older within 30 days as specified.38 However, hundreds of
children could not be successfully reunified with their families by the deadline.
More than 300 children remained separated as late as August 2018, 1 month
after the court-mandated deadline, because their parents were no longer in the
United States. Of the more than 300 separated children, 6 were younger than
age 5. Additionally, DHS and HHS could not reunify 17 children because their
parents were in Federal, state, or local custody. Table 5 provides data on
family reunification efforts as of August 30, 2018.

Table 5: Status of Reunification Efforts, as reported by DHS and HHS as of
                              August 30, 2018
                                                           5 Years or      5 to 17
                        Description                                                      Total
                                                            Younger       Years Old
     Total Number of Children Possibly Separated from         103           2,551        2,654
     Parents
     Children Reunified with a Parent                           61          1,876        1,937
     Children Released to Sponsor or Turned 18                  20              200       220
     Children Not Reunified Because Parent Is No Longer         6               316       322
     in the United States.
     Children Not Reunified Because Parent Is In Other          2               15        17
     Federal, State, or Local Custody
                       Source: OIG-generated from Ms. L. v. ICE court filings

As of February 2019, DHS and HHS attested that 2,155 children were reunified
with a parent and 580 children were discharged from ORR care under
appropriate circumstances in response to Ms. L. v. ICE.39 Five children were
not reunified and remained in ORR care; four related parents were no longer in
the United States and one was incarcerated. However, we cannot confirm that



38Ms. L. v. ICE, 18-cv-428 (S.D. Cal. June 26, 2018) 

39According to the public reporting as part of Ms. L. v. ICE court filings, February 20, 2019.

Other appropriate circumstances include discharges to other sponsors (such as in situations 

where the child’s separated parent is not eligible for reunification) or children who turned 18.


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separated children for whom CBP did not properly record a family relationship
were reunified with a parent.40

DHS’ efforts to reconcile detainee records with UAC in HHS custody were
largely a manual process. To meet the court-ordered reunification mandates,
DHS and HHS established a joint operations center at HHS headquarters. The
center was staffed with representatives from both agencies, tasked with
conducting manual crosschecks of DHS and HHS data to confirm the total
number of separated family members. The joint effort required intensive
analysis and manual review of data housed in the e3 system and multiple
Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. HHS estimated that this effort entailed 800
hours of analysis and manual review by HHS, Border Patrol, and ICE
personnel, as well as contractors, all working together.

The process to reunify children with their families was disjointed, as DHS and
HHS transferred children and parents all over the country to different facilities
in different cities and states. Specifically, for children age 4 and younger, ICE
transferred parents to meet their children in those dispersed locations.
Children 5 years and older who had parents in ICE custody travelled to one of
several ICE detention centers along the Southwest Border for reunification.
DHS identified several ICE detention centers where reunifications would take
place for children ages 5 to 17. HHS personnel brought separated children to
the adult detention centers where ICE would process and reunify children with
their parents.

More concerning, reunifications were coordinated entirely by email instead of
using a system of record to share sensitive information on actions taken. To
illustrate, HHS sent ICE field officers children’s biographical data, such as
child’s name and date of birth, which constituted personally identifiable
information, and also sent alien numbers, which constituted sensitive
personally identifiable information, through unsecured means.41 An ICE field
office director in Texas said the emails came as often as every 5 minutes and
other ICE officers said that children arrived at the detention centers at all
hours of the day and night. Multiple ICE personnel supporting reunifications
described the process as chaotic. Once children arrived at detention centers,
ICE personnel had to reprocess the families for release. We visited two ICE
detention centers, and found that both used ICE systems (e.g., EARM) as well


40 The scope of this audit did not include validating information submitted by DHS as part of
the Ms. L. v ICE litigation. For more information on scope, see Appendix A.
41
   DHS Handbook for Safeguarding Sensitive PII, Privacy Policy Directive 047-01-007, Rev. 3
(Dec. 4, 2017): “Sensitive PII (SPII) is Personally Identifiable Information, which if lost,
compromised, or disclosed without authorization could result in substantial harm,
embarrassment, inconvenience, or unfairness to an individual.” Id. at 5.


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as Microsoft Excel spreadsheets to record the family reunifications that
occurred. This entailed reclassifying UAC and single adults as family units and
then producing notices for them to appear in court for immigration hearings.
One detention center supervisor said it could take ICE officers hours to
reprocess a single family because case information on the migrants was not
always readily available or was often in various formats (i.e., email,
spreadsheets, hardcopy, or system data).

ICE was sometimes unable to transfer parents in time to meet arriving children
because ICE did not always receive adequate notice from HHS that children
were arriving. On at least one occasion, after receiving no corresponding email
notification, ICE personnel were surprised when a child arrived at a detention
center. In some cases, children had to wait hours or even stay overnight at
hotels, before their parents arrived at detention centers for reunification. One
ICE detention center supervisor said there was limited on-site space for
children, and this space was packed with children waiting for their parents to
arrive and for ICE to process their reunifications.

Parents Receiving Minimal or No Jail-time Were Denied Immediate
Reunification

During the Zero Tolerance period, many adults were only sentenced to time
served and quickly returned to CBP custody or were not referred for
prosecution at all. Approximately 82 percent of all parents separated from
children during Zero Tolerance received minimal or no jail time. This includes
more than 15 percent of all adults separated from children during Zero
Tolerance who were not referred for prosecution. These circumstances led to
many adults returning from court to Border Patrol custody. Because adults in
CBP custody are normally referred for prosecution within 48 hours, adults
could have court hearings, be sentenced, and return to CBP facilities before
their children were transferred to ORR. Despite Border Patrol’s awareness of
increasing numbers of parents receiving time-served sentences, separations
continued.

In light of these circumstances, CBP sought to reunify families at their own
facilities instead of transferring the children to HHS. During the Zero
Tolerance period, Border Patrol agents reportedly reunified 530 children (of
2,458 total children whose parents received minimal or no jail-time) with their
parents at CBP facilities.

Border Patrol was unable to reunify 1,928 children and their parents in
instances when the parents received little or no jail time. This occurred
because Border Patrol, as required, had already transferred the children to
ORR custody before CBP returned their parents from court. In these cases,

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migrant parents became responsible for contacting ORR to locate their children
and initiate the reunification process if they were released from DHS custody.
When parents remained in detention after their court hearings, the children
stayed in ORR custody, including placement at more than 150 locations across
the Nation, which made ultimate reunification much more difficult and costly.

DHS Did Not Achieve Zero Tolerance Goals Amid Ineffective IT
Tracking and Management of Separated Families

DHS spent thousands of hours and well in excess of $1 million in overtime
costs supporting Zero Tolerance. However, the policy did not achieve its
intended goal of deterring the practice of “Catch-and-Release.” Instead, the
number of apprehensions continued to rise, and ICE was releasing thousands
of detainees into the United States almost immediately. During our site visits,
Border Patrol facilities had nearly reached full capacity, resulting in overly
crowded conditions. The increase in apprehended families also resulted in
children being held in CBP facilities beyond the 72-hour legal limit. As a
result, CBP’s limited staff resources and facilities were strained as agents cared
for UAC rather than patrolling the border.

Reunification Efforts Strained DHS and HHS Resources While “Catch-and-
Release” Continued

DHS and HHS expended significant financial and staff resources to keep pace
with the additional work required for execution of the Zero Tolerance Policy.
Border Patrol reportedly spent more than 28,000 hours and $1.2 million in
overtime to support Zero Tolerance-related activities. ICE personnel at each
detention center we visited said they worked day and night to coordinate
transportation and detention of apprehended migrants. Some agents slept on-
site for days to support reunification efforts. Additionally, a senior ICE officer
who supported the DHS and HHS joint operations center stated he worked 7
days a week supporting efforts to identify separations and reunify families.

However, the number of apprehensions of family units continued to rise
throughout the Zero Tolerance period. Border Patrol apprehended nearly 400
additional families along the Southwest Border during the 2 months Zero
Tolerance was in place, during May and June 2018, as compared with the 2
months prior to the policy’s implementation, from March to April 2018.

The increasing number of apprehensions resulted in ICE’s release of thousands
of detainees into the United States almost immediately. This continued
throughout Zero Tolerance, even though the policy was intended to end the
practice of “Catch-and-Release.” According to CBP data, from May 5, to June
20, 2018, DHS released more than 5,500 detainees from the Rio Grande Valley

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Sector Border Patrol Headquarters to the McAllen, Texas public bus station
alone, including almost 3,000 children. Further, during a November 2018 visit
to the Rio Grande Valley Sector, we witnessed ICE agents transferring busloads
of detainees from CBP facilities to the McAllen, Texas public bus station.
Figure 10 shows detainees lined up at a CBP facility.




         Figure 10: Detainees at the Paso Del Norte Processing Center in El Paso, TX

                                Source: DHS OIG photograph


In part, because of the increased apprehensions, Border Patrol facilities
reached or exceeded full capacity, resulting in overly crowded conditions, as we
observed during our site visits. For example, Border Patrol’s Central
Processing Center in McAllen, Texas, designed to hold 1,500 people, was 80
percent full during our visit in November 2018. This location is the largest
immigration-processing center in the country. Figure 11 shows living
conditions for children in the McAllen facility. During our December 2018 visit
to the Clint Border Patrol Station in Border Patrol’s El Paso Sector, agents
showed a sally port42 converted into a holding area for male adults and
teenagers to alleviate crowded conditions. OIG reported on similar conditions
in May and June 2019, disclosing serious overcrowding and prolonged
detention of both adults and UAC.43 OIG reported that overcrowding and


42 A sally port is a secure entryway for a detention facility.
43Management Alert – DHS Needs to Address Dangerous Overcrowding Among Single Adults at
El Paso Del Norte Processing Center (OIG-19-46), May 2019; and Management Alert – DHS
Needs to Address Dangerous Overcrowding and Prolonged Detention of Children and Adults in
the Rio Grande Valley (OIG-19-51) July 2019

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prolonged detention represent an immediate risk to the health and safety of
DHS agents and officers, as well as to those detained.




             Figure 11: Living Conditions for Children Detained in McAllen, TX

                                Source: DHS OIG photograph


The increase in apprehended families also resulted in children remaining in
CBP facilities beyond the 72-hour legal limit. By May 10, 2018, only five days
after Zero Tolerance implementation, ORR reached 87 percent occupancy. As
placement space within ORR’s facilities decreased, CBP maintained custody of
children for longer periods. On May 29, 2018, CBP’s average custody period
for children separated from parents exceeded the 72-hour threshold for the
first time during Zero Tolerance, and exceeded the limit for 8 of the next 10
days through June 7, 2018. We reviewed records for 212,935 minors from
October 1, 2017, to February 14, 2019, and determined that prior to Zero
Tolerance, approximately 16 percent of children were held in custody longer
than 72 hours. In contrast, during Zero Tolerance, we found 39 percent of
separated children were held beyond 72 hours, including 192 children who
remained in CBP facilities for more than 6 days — twice the time limit allowed.
CBP held six children in custody during Zero Tolerance for 10 days or more.


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The increase in illegal crossings also strained CBP’s ability to guard the border.
Border Patrol personnel informed us that they diverted agents from guarding
the border in order to care for the rapidly increasing number of children within
their facilities. Border Patrol personnel said they had to use funds budgeted
for other mission areas to provide food and supplies for children and families
awaiting placement. CBP personnel expressed concerns regarding the time lost
in carrying out their core border patrol duties because of these increased
responsibilities.

Conclusion

The Zero Tolerance Policy was in place for only 6 weeks. Although intended to
reduce the practice of “Catch-and-Release,” the policy had the unexpected
consequences of overburdening CBP and ICE resources, and over-taxing
facilities for detaining migrants at the Southwest Border. These conditions
were exacerbated by thousands of children separated from their parents and
DHS’ inability to reunify families as mandated due to poor data entry, data
tracking, information sharing, and IT systems capabilities. According to CBP,
these deficiencies alone cost Border Patrol 28,000 hours and an additional $1.2
million in staff overtime. While the Department made some improvements to
its IT systems following the policy implementation, Border Patrol, ICE, and
HHS continue to use manual processes to share information about separated
children. The Department must take immediate steps to improve planning,
automation, and record keeping to minimize potentially adverse effects on
migrant detainees and their children, Border Patrol and ICE law enforcement
operations, and associated operating costs.

                             Recommendations

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.



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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.

OIG Analysis of DHS Comments

We obtained written comments on a draft of this report from the Director of the
DHS GAO-OIG Liaison Office. The Department concurred with all five of our
recommendations. We have included a copy of the comments in their entirety
in appendix B. Following is our evaluation and response to the comments the
Department provided in response to the draft report.

OIG Response to General Comments:

We appreciate the Department’s positive comments regarding our draft report.
The Department was pleased to note our acknowledgement that during FY
2018, DHS experienced a 35 percent increase over FY 2017 in the number of
families and children apprehended after illegally entering at the Southwest
Border, as well as the capacity challenges this created for DHS and HHS. The
Department also noted that OIG acknowledged that CBP and ICE had made
updates to their IT systems to facilitate tracking and reunification of separated
parents and children during FY 2018, and that the modifications had helped
improve data quality and enhance user visibility of a subject’s status. The
Department emphasized that the CBP Office of Information and Technology
continues to update the e3 system with enhancements to better support CBP
Border Patrol in processing, tracking, and managing events and subjects more
efficiently and effectively.

However, the Director also expressed concerns regarding OIG’s reported
analysis of DHS data systems and our work to confirm the number of children
DHS separated. Notably, the Director stated, “The inaccurate numbers of
potential separations the OIG identified will create confusion and require
significant effort from across the Department to explain these inaccuracies and
compliance with Departmental policies and court orders resulting in a
significant burden on the agency.” Following are our responses to the specific
concerns the Director outlined.




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   x	 The Director stated that, “Despite the extensive written technical
      comments provided to the OIG and many follow-up meetings and
      conversations held between subject matter experts and the OIG, the draft
      report included inflated numbers that will lead to misunderstandings
      and misconceptions.” We disagree with this statement. As is our normal
      process, OIG and the Department held a formal Exit Conference to
      discuss findings and provide DHS personnel opportunity to comment
      and ask questions. We also held an additional meeting with personnel
      from ICE’s Office of the Principal Legal Advisor to discuss their concerns
      regarding the inclusion of OIG’s potential missed family relationship data
      in the draft report, along with our methodology that yielded those
      numbers. During this meeting, ICE personnel agreed that they were not
      data experts and had struggled with data issues during the period of the
      Zero Tolerance Policy. OIG offered to hold an additional meeting with ICE
      data experts to discuss the methodology used, but ICE personnel never
      contacted the audit team to schedule the meeting.

   x	 The Director stated that in compliance with the Ms. L. v. ICE preliminary
      injunction, HHS and DHS undertook a significant effort to identify
      children in HHS ORR care who had been separated from parents and to
      reunify them. While we agree that DHS and HHS conducted significant
      review effort, as noted in our report, this review did not include a search
      for all potentially separated children. Specifically, Border Patrol only
      searched for children separated during Zero Tolerance whose case
      records contained deleted family units. Border Patrol’s search excluded
      (1) children who were not recorded as part of a family unit, and (2)
      children separated before Zero Tolerance. Further, Border Patrol data
      contained errors and, as a result, not all separated children were
      properly recorded as being part of a family unit. These data errors
      resulted in Border Patrol’s missing hundreds of detainees whom DHS
      separated during Zero Tolerance. HHS later identified these separated
      detainees and alerted DHS. However, HHS’ search for separated children
      also was limited to include only minors who remained in ORR care as of
      June 26, 2018. Children separated from a parent, but who had been
      released from ORR care prior to that date, were not included in the
      original Ms. L. class list.

      It should be understood that we did not attempt to verify the separations
      accounted for in the Ms. L. case. Rather, we attempted to identify family
      relationships that Border Patrol did not record during the intake process.
      Failure to record a family relationship during initial intake increases the
      difficulty in identifying family separations.




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   x	 The Director stated that the DHS, HHS, and Department of Justice
      numbers had undergone rigorous double and triple checking by relevant
      agencies. The Director also stated, “these agencies are still engaged in
      rigorous line-by-line vetting of lists that encompass the additional
      members of the expanded class as ordered by the Ms. L. court on March
      8, 2019.” Despite the Director’s assertion that our report inaccurately
      characterizes the level of certainty with which DHS and HHS identified
      separated parents and children, the Director also concedes this is a
      significant effort, which remains ongoing 15 months after Zero Tolerance
      ended. Because this effort is ongoing, we question how DHS can assert
      our numbers are not correct, when in fact, DHS and HHS are still
      working to validate the number of family separations that have occurred
      since July 2017.

   x	 The Director also expressed concern that the OIG’s data analysis did not
      include the information from the full range of sources and methods used
      by DHS, HHS, and the Department of Justice to identify and verify the
      numbers of separated children. However, the Director does not
      accurately describe the methodology used by OIG. OIG analysts
      reviewed DHS’ apprehension data and identified potentially missed family
      relationship data by linking adults and children whom Border Patrol
      apprehended together, who shared common last names based on Latin
      American naming conventions, were between 16 and 40 years apart, and
      were not associated with a family unit or group in the system. In April
      2019, we conducted a teleconference with a Border Patrol Chief to
      discuss our methodology and obtain feedback on our data analysis
      approach. Following this teleconference, we provided a sample list of 25
      children found using our methodology. However, we did not receive a
      response from CBP. We made a second inquiry the following week, but
      did not receive a response before the draft report was provided to the
      Department.

      We acknowledge that not all adults and children we identified using this
      methodology are separated families. Furthermore, our report does not
      explicitly state, or imply, that these are families. Rather, we state that
      the data suggest potential family relationships exist that were not
      recorded by Border Patrol. We also acknowledge that this data could
      include false positives or relatives who do not meet the DHS definition of
      a family unit, which is limited to an adult over 18 who is the legal
      guardian or parent of a child under 18.




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Updates to OIG’s Data Analysis

Although we disagreed with the concerns that the Director raised, as just
outlined, we nonetheless took steps to reexamine our data methodology and
make revisions where appropriate. Specifically, in an abundance of caution to
avoid confusion and confirm our data analysis, we changed the language in our
report from “potentially separated minors” to instances of “potential family
relationships that were not accurately recorded by CBP,” which could result in
unrecorded family separations.

Additionally, subsequent to issuing our draft report to Border Patrol for review
and comment, we provided the following two updated samples to address DHS’
concerns.

   x	 The first sample was a new set of names identified using our original
      data methodology. This sample included a list of 34 children. In
      response, CBP confirmed that from this sample, DHS had in fact
      separated two children not included on Border Patrol’s list of Zero
      Tolerance separations. CBP also confirmed that the remaining 32
      children were not separated from both parents; in many of these cases,
      the children remained with their mother while separated from their
      father. Because CBP does not consider a child who remains with one
      parent a family separation, and because these children were recorded as
      being in a family unit with at least one parent, we refined our
      methodology to only include children with no family relationship
      recorded at all. Based on the results of this analysis, we changed our
      methodology to eliminate instances where a child was put into a family
      unit with one parent, while potentially being separated from the other
      parent or another family member.

   x	 Using this refined methodology, we sent a second sample of 39 children
      to CBP for review. In response, CBP confirmed that from this sample of
      39, DHS had separated five children not included in Border Patrol’s list
      of Zero Tolerance separations. One of these five separations included a
      child separated immediately after Zero Tolerance ended, who had no case
      notes to indicate a family separation. Working with a CBP analyst, we
      identified another 5 cases from the sample of 39 that were incorrectly
      processed; in each of the 5 cases a child was not properly recorded as
      being part of a family unit or group. In these cases, the child stayed with
      family or siblings and was removed from the country. In the remaining
      29 cases, we could not confirm whether the child was traveling with a
      family member, or whether the family simply did not alert Border Patrol
      agents that they were traveling together. Based on this finding, we added
      language to the report to clarify that, in some cases, a family may not

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      alert CBP personnel of a family relationship. These cases of parental
      omission are not errors introduced by CBP.

We use the refined methodology just described in our final report. This refined
methodology has resulted in our reducing the number of children potentially
traveling with a family member, but not recorded as part of a family unit or
group in CBP’s systems. We provided DHS with these updated numbers.

Response to Report Recommendations:

In the formal written comments, DHS concurred with all five recommendations.

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.

Management Comments
DHS concurred and stated that, in April 2019, Border Patrol provided an
updated PowerPoint to the field to assist agents in improving their method for
tracking family separations. In addition, Border Patrol began a family
separation working group comprising multiple levels of Border Patrol
employees from the field. The sole function of the working group is to review
every family separation and ensure all are within CBP’s established
parameters. Border Patrol also instructed the field to ensure two levels of
supervisors review every separation on a case-by-case basis. DHS further
noted that Border Patrol had no problems reuniting families in CBP custody
after receiving the Executive Order to do so.

OIG Analysis
We acknowledge the Department’s efforts to improve training on tracking
separated family members. The updated PowerPoint helps meet the intent of
this recommendation; however, we received no documentation on the
Department distributing the PowerPoint to the field, or on its instruction to
field personnel to ensure two-step level supervisory review for all separations.
We also recognize Border Patrol’s establishment of a working group as a
positive step toward implementing process improvements for tracking
separated migrant family members; however, we still require documentation in
this regard. We consider this recommendation resolved and open.

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.

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Management Comments
The Department concurred and stated CBP’s Office of Information Technology
collaborated with Border Patrol to identify enhancements via additional edit
check controls within the e3 system, to further limit user error and improve
data quality. The Office of Information Technology is in the process of
modifying e3 to include additional data entry checks to further enhance the
identity and accuracy of family associations. CBP expects to complete these
efforts by February 28, 2020.

OIG Analysis
We appreciate CBP’s efforts to limit user error and improve CBP’s data quality
by working with Border Patrol personnel and adding additional data entry
checks in the e3 system. We consider these actions positive steps toward
addressing this recommendation. We suggest conducting similar work with
Office of Field Operations personnel to determine whether similar controls are
needed in their SIGMA system. We look forward to receiving status updates,
along with documentary evidence, as these controls are implemented. This
recommendation is open and resolved.

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.

Management Comments
The Department concurred and stated ICE Enforcement and Removal
Operations (ERO) will work with the DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil
Liberties, CBP, and HHS to better document the family separation and
reunification roles and responsibilities of each agency. It is important to note
that this work will ultimately be dependent on how the legal landscape is
defined based on the outcome of Ms. L. v. ICE and other litigation related to
family separations. In the meantime, ERO will continue to seek to improve
communication and coordination with HHS on migrant family reunification
procedures. The Department did not have a date for when this
recommendation would be completed.

OIG Analysis
We recognize that reunification roles and responsibilities might change based
on the outcome of Ms. L. v. ICE, and support ICE’s plan to continue to work to
both better document family separation and reunification roles and
responsibilities and seek to improve communication and coordination with
HHS on procedures for family reunification. We look forward to receiving

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updates, along with documentary evidence, as these plans are completed and
implemented. This recommendation is open, but unresolved until the
Department provides an estimated date for its completion.

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.

Management Comments
The Department concurred and stated the DHS Management Directorate,
through its Office of the Chief Information Officer, will support both ICE and
CBP in their efforts regarding governance of data interoperability and
information exchanges. Specifically, the DHS Chief Data Officer will work with
the Data Governance sections of ICE and CBP to strengthen the Master
Reference Data Management processes between the two components. The
Department plans to complete these efforts by July 31, 2020.

OIG Analysis
We appreciate the Office of the Chief Information Officer’s efforts to work with
ICE and CBP to improve integration of their governance of data interoperability
and information exchanges. This is a positive step toward addressing this
recommendation. We look forward to receiving future status updates, along
with documentary evidence, as these efforts are completed. This
recommendation is open and resolved.

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.

Management Comments
The Department concurred with the recommendation. In accordance with
DHS’ practice of addressing issues at the lowest organizational level possible,
the DHS Deputy Under Secretary for Management will monitor and facilitate
work by CBP and others across the Department to ensure that a standard
process for collecting and sharing detainee tracking information is developed
and adopted by field personnel, and coordinated with HHS, as appropriate.
The Director noted several steps already taken by CBP to improve
communication with HHS. These steps include changes in both Border Patrol
and OFO systems to provide additional information, improve data and
communication, and establish a Memorandum of Agreement related to transfer
packets for ensuring better placement of children.



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The Director also highlighted how DHS and HHS currently work together to
facilitate reunification of separated families. The Director stated that as
separation cases are identified, the information is shared between appropriate
DHS and HHS personnel to promote an interagency effort for reunification.
Both ICE and HHS ensure that separation data are disseminated to field
personnel for further processing and coordination. The Director stated that
there are also plans in place for ICE’s Juvenile and Family Residential
Management Unit and the Statistical Tracking Unit to work with the DHS
Management Directorate and HHS’ ORR staff to improve the current practices.

Finally, the Department discussed CBP Office of Information and Technology’s
work to develop a Unified Immigration Portal to serve as an integrated solution
for ensuring visibility of complete and real-time information across immigration
agencies. CBP is working with ICE, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services,
and ORR on this cross-agency portal. The Department estimates finishing its
work on this recommendation by September 30, 2020.

OIG Analysis
We recognize the Department’s efforts to coordinate with HHS to improve the
process of sharing detainee information between the two agencies. We look
forward to learning more and receiving documented evidence on DHS’ efforts to
standardize processes for increased information sharing with HHS, including
the development of the Unified Immigration Portal. This recommendation is
open and resolved.




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Appendix A
Objective, Scope, and Methodology

The DHS OIG was established by the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (Public
Law 107−296) by amendment to the Inspector General Act of 1978. This is one
of a series of audit, inspection, and special reports prepared as part of our
oversight responsibilities to promote economy, efficiency, and effectiveness
within the Department.

We conducted this audit to assess the effectiveness of DHS systems to track
detainees and support efforts to reunify unaccompanied alien children
separated from their families. As part of this audit, we also examined how
tracking and managing separated families impacted DHS’ ability to accomplish
goals of the Zero Tolerance Policy. As background for our audit, we researched
and reviewed federal laws, executive orders, agency guidelines, policies, and
procedures related to detainee tracking and the Zero Tolerance Policy. We
obtained documents, congressional testimony, raw data, and media articles
regarding the policy. Additionally, we reviewed published GAO and DHS OIG
reports to identify prior findings and recommendations. We used this
information to establish a data collection approach that consisted of interviews
with relevant stakeholders, focused information gathering, documentation
analysis, and targeted site visits to accomplish our audit objectives.

We obtained more than 250 documents, held more than 40 meetings,
participated in teleconferences with CBP and ICE staff at headquarters and in
the field, received demonstrations of multiple IT systems, and met with DHS
and HHS officials to assess detainee tracking and efforts to reunify UAC with
their families. At ICE headquarters, we interviewed representatives of ICE’s
Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations, Office of the Principal Legal
Advisor, and Office of the Chief Information Officer. Within ICE, we met with
personnel from the Juvenile and Family Residential Management Unit. We
interviewed representatives from CBP’s Border Patrol, Office of Field
Operations, and Office of Information and Technology. Finally, we interviewed
personnel from HHS’ Office of Refugee Resettlement.

In November 2018, we visited OFO’s Port of Entry in Hidalgo, Texas, to observe
detainee processing and IT systems used for data intake, migrant tracking, and
transfer of detainees. We visited locations within CBP’s Rio Grande Valley
Sector, including the McAllen Central Processing Center, to observe CBP’s
system and processes to record and track data about detainees, UAC transfer
to ICE and HHS, and information sharing between OFO, Border Patrol, and
ICE. In December, we visited Border Patrol and ICE facilities in El Paso, Clint,
and Tornillo, Texas. During site visits, we observed processing procedures in
IT systems and the transfer of detainees. We also observed ICE’s ability to use

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its IT systems for tracking detainees reunifying UAC with their families. We did
not compile or review classified documents to conduct this audit.

We used the work of specialists from the OIG-wide Analytics and Support and
Data Audits and Infrastructure Divisions to acquire and analyze CBP data from
October 2017 through February 2019, to identify instances of potential family
relationships not accurately recorded by CBP in their IT systems during this
timeframe, including Zero Tolerance. We also reviewed separation data from
before and after Zero Tolerance to identify trends. We obtained complete tables
from the production Enforcement Integrated Database (EID) and complete
backup file copies of the Border Patrol Enforcement Tracking System (BPETS)
and EID-Snapshot (EID-SNAP) operational data stores, which maintain copies
of tables from production EID, as well as derived tables produced by CBP and
ICE. We assessed the reliability of data by (1) interviewing agency officials
knowledgeable about the data, (2) reviewing existing information about the
data and the systems that produced them, and (3) performing electronic testing
of data used for our analysis. For example, we received demonstrations of how
system users record data in McAllen, Texas, and El Paso, Texas, and
interviewed knowledgeable DHS officials in DC. We reviewed a Privacy Impact
Assessment for EID that describes functionality and the data contained in the
system, as well as system documentation obtained from DHS to understand
the primary keys and unique identifiers in the system. We confirmed that the
totals of DHS-provided table extracts matched the number of records in our
copies of operational data stores containing tables from EID. We performed
tests on key data elements to ensure there were no duplicate records or
unexpected values. We also traced a random sample of apprehension records
to underlying case notes to confirm existence. We determined that the data
were sufficiently reliable for the purposes of this report.

Lastly, we reviewed internal controls that pertain to the effectiveness of DHS’ IT
systems in supporting detainee tracking and efforts to reunify children
separated from their families. We determined these internal controls were
inadequate and required significant improvements. Controls only partially
achieved the objectives intended to mitigate risks related to business
operations and governance under the Zero Tolerance Policy.

We conducted this performance audit between October 2018 and March 2019
pursuant to the Inspector General Act of 1978, as amended, and according to
Generally Accepted Government Auditing Standards. Those standards require
that we plan and perform the audit to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to
provide a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based upon our
audit objectives. We believe the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis
for our findings and conclusions based upon our audit objectives.



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Appendix B
DHS Comments to the Draft Report




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Appendix C
Report Distribution

Department of Homeland Security

Secretary
Deputy Secretary
Chief of Staff
General Counsel
Executive Secretary
Director, GAO/OIG Liaison Office
Assistant Secretary for Office of Policy
Assistant Secretary for Office of Public Affairs
Assistant Secretary for Office of Legislative Affairs
Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Deputy Under Secretary for
Management, MGMT
Chief Operating Officer and Senior Official Performing the Duties of the
Commissioner, CBP
Acting Director, ICE
Audit Liaison, MGMT
Audit Liaison, CBP
Audit Liaison, ICE

Office of Management and Budget

Chief, Homeland Security Branch
DHS OIG Budget Examiner




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