Nov. 27 (UPI) -- The Department of Homeland Security was unable to provide an accurate number of children separated from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border due to insufficient tracking technology, a government watchdog said Wednesday.
The Office of the Inspector General said U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the agency that conducted family separations, knew of deficiencies in its information technology when it conducted a pilot version of the program in El Paso, Texas, in 2017 but did not adequately improve the systems when it implemented a "zero-tolerance" immigration policy across the border from May 2018 to June in 2018.
DHS estimated that Border Patrol agents separated 3,014 children from their families while the policy was in place and completed 2,155 reunifications following a court order.
In response to the technological inefficiencies, CBP adopted various ad hoc methods to record and track family separations but these methods led to "widespread errors," resulting in an additional 1,233 children with potential family relationships that were not accurately recorded.
"Without a reliable account of all family relationships, we could not validate the total number of separations or reunifications," the report stated.
The report also found that the "zero-tolerance" policy failed in its stated goal to deter the practice of "catch and release," in which immigrants who turned themselves in to border agents were released with a notice to appear in immigration court at a later date.
"Instead, the number of apprehensions continued to rise and ICE was releasing thousands of detainees into the United States almost immediately," the report read.
Further, the increase in apprehended families resulted in children being held in CBP facilities beyond the 72-hour legal limit, straining the agency's limited staff resources and facilities as agents spent time caring for separated children rather than patrolling the border, the report stated.