Trump administration officials failed to prepare for families separated during the pursuit of its “zero tolerance” policy for parents and children crossing the southern US border with Mexico, according to a scathing government watchdog report.
The report from the inspector-general for the US Department of Justice, published just days before President Donald Trump leaves the White House, placed much of the blame for the policy’s failures on Jeff Sessions, former US attorney-general, and Rod Rosenstein, former deputy attorney-general.
The report said Mr Sessions and the justice department’s “single-minded focus on increasing immigration prosecutions came at the expense of careful and appropriate consideration of the impact of family unit prosecutions and child separations”.
Joe Biden, the president-elect, has said he would assemble a federal task force to look into the family separation policy and reunite the hundreds of children who are still separated from their parents.
“It is imperative that we rectify these grave injustices, including by facilitating the reunification of these families in the United States as soon as possible and protecting them from detention and deportation,” House Democrats said in a joint statement on Thursday. “It is the very least we can do.”
Mr Sessions resigned as attorney-general in November 2018, and ran in last year’s Senate election in Alabama, but lost in the Republican primary to former college football coach Tommy Tuberville.
Mr Trump came under intense criticism in the early years of his presidency for his immigration policies at the US-Mexico border, especially after images and videos were released showing young children being forcibly separated from their parents.
The president abruptly ended the policy through an executive order in June 2018, though a separate watchdog report in January 2019 found thousands of migrant children had been separated from their families.
Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday said the latest inspector-general report “sheds new light on the chaos, cruelty and reckless disregard for vulnerable children in our nation’s custody”.
“This dark chapter in our history must never be repeated,” the House Democrats added in their statement, saying they “look forward” to the author of the report testifying before Congress.
Democrats on the Senate judiciary committee also reacted sharply to Thursday’s report.
Sheldon Whitehouse, the Democratic senator from Rhode Island, said: “We are only beginning to account for the damage President Trump and his cronies wrought at the department [of justice]”.
Mr Biden has said he would nominate Merrick Garland, the federal courts appeal judge whose Supreme Court nomination was blocked by Republicans in 2016, to be attorney-general in his administration.
Bill Barr resigned as attorney-general last month after falling out with Mr Trump over his unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud in the November 3 election. Jeffrey Rosen is the current acting attorney-general.