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Washington – Immigration officials were not prepared this summer to manage the consequences of a “zero tolerance” policy at the Southwest border, which resulted in the separation of nearly 3,000 children from their parents, Homeland Security’s watchdog said in a report made public on Tuesday.

The resulting confusion along the border led to misinformation among separated parents who did not know why they had been taken from their children or how to reach them, longer detention for children at border facilities meant for short-term stays, and difficulty in identifying and reuniting families. And backlogs at ports of entry may have pushed some into illegally crossing the U.S-Mexico border, the report found.

While the Trump administration had been widely criticized for the policy, the criticism previously came mostly from political opponents and not from independent, nonpolitical investigators.

Investigators with Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General compiled the report after speaking with about 50 immigration employees, plus 17 detainees and parents who had been separated from their children and later released. They also reviewed documents and data. Homeland Security is the umbrella department for U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Homeland Security officials say the report illustrates how difficult it is to enforce broken and poorly written immigration laws. The inspector general, they said, wrongly mixed up what happens to migrants caught crossing illegally between borders with migrants who come to legal ports of entry seeking asylum.

“This administration will no longer turn a blind eye to illegal immigration and will continue to refer illegal border crossers for prosecution. We are committed to enforcing the rule of law and ensuring that there are consequences for illegal actions,” Homeland Security spokeswoman Katie Waldman said.

Illegally crossing the U.S. border had already been a criminal charge, but authorities had previously avoided large-scale family separation. But the Trump administration has made curbing immigration a major focus, working to harden what administration officials say are lax laws.

In May, officials began criminally prosecuting anyone caught crossing the border illegally. Children were separated from their parents as the adults went through criminal proceedings.

The move prompted international outrage and President Donald Trump eventually signed an executive order stopping the separations. A lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of parents, and a judge ordered the families reunited. That process is ongoing, though the government has said it has reunited all eligible parents with children.

“Thousands of children are living with trauma because of the Trump administration’s family separation fiasco,” said Lee Gelernt, lead lawyer on the ACLU case. “Some parents may never see their children again. This report shows not just the cruelty of the Trump administration’s actions, but also its ineptitude and historic failure of foresight . . .”

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