Family separation may have hit thousands more migrant children than reported

The latest findings by the Health and Human Services Inspector General's office suggests that tough immigration policies embraced early in Trump's term contributed to the increased family separations.
10:57 | 01/18/19

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Transcript for Family separation may have hit thousands more migrant children than reported
Meanwhile a congress also continuing to take a close look at the administration's immigration policy a lot of headlines on that front in the past 24 hours we are just learning now that senator Jeff Merkley. The Democrat of Oregon has now saying he's asking the FBI. To investigate DHS secretary cures to Nielsen for lying to congress. About that separation policy the children separation policy at the border which of course she's denied and this administration. Had at any time let's bring in Jon Cohen RA BC news national security contributor John you've of course track immigration issues for so long there's this new fight now in the wake of investigate inspector general port yesterday. About the number of children that were separated from their parents at the border. How do you Parse what do what we've been seeing the past 24 hours and what does it tell you that that this is now turn to potentially. An attack on accuracy Nielsen. Yeah I think sex during else and has has a problem. He she has on the one hand and her public statements. I tried to saying that how are not doing anything different during the trump administration that was been now that was done during Obama administration. I'm forcing that's not actually completely accurate. While it's true that during an Obama administration there were occasions when. Adults were separated from miners that war that were caught while crossing the border illegally. I typically that was only done in situations. Where there was reason to doubt that the adult was actually the parent of the minor. Or that the miner safety was somehow in jeopardy by being with the adult. What's really different about what the trunk administration has done it through the zero tolerance policy is that they sent first because they're gonna prosecute every adult opera handed. Crossing the border. Between the ports of entry. But secondly and this is where it's really different they said that they were gonna placed as adults in pretrial detention direct turn them over to the US Marshals Service and put them in a central. Jail. Pending the date there being in appearing in the courtroom. Once an adult is put into a correctional facility or criminal justice jail. They can they can't be housed together with children that they may have been wet so its. Of the trump a zero tolerance policy. That was very different than what's been done in past administrations and that directly led to the wide spread separation of adults from children. And just remind everybody this was a policy put in place by attorney general Jeff Sessions. In 2018 it obviously was widely criticized the president then moved to roll back as far as we know most of those children have been have been. Reunited. If not all of them we know the practice has abated significantly. I'm but John the significance of the past 24 hours is we've learned that there's now some evidence Jeff Merkley has this memo has a whistle blower he says it's come forward. I went documents showing that the administration is far back as early 20s17. Was talking about separating children from their parents. Yeah that's right the man. You know illustrates that there are looking for a way to deter people from. Migrating to the country and there were some folks at the White House and the Justice Department and even a DHS. That believe that that separating children from their parents went with service that to turn. It underscores two things. One it's another example of when the administration has rolled out an immigration related info on operational plan. And there didn't seem to be the necessary planning or the necessary resources apply. And into the zero tolerance Ra I was just one example of that. Second lay out what we're seeing is that. That lack of planning seems to be continuing today I even some of the reporting that we've seen over the past several days. That we had our hearing from Border Patrol officers were saying. Yasser barriers important but what's more important is that adequate resources be at the border to deal with these large number of individuals coming to the border and and and requesting asylum. You need more people though that these individuals anymore people to process these individuals in need more housing they need more medical care. Facility south stated it just seems to be a lack of planning. And resource allocation on the humanitarian side of the border challenges. Let's bring their senior national correspondent Mac gotten he's in Los Angeles just back from the border. Where he's done a lot of reporting Matt. You know just in the past couple of weeks is as you've been reporting it does seem that the humanitarian crisis there. As may be abated apprehensions are down a little bit and in fact that you just broke the news that the administration has closed one of those facilities that was housing all these children. I don't think it has abated in any sense I think what typically happens in this time of year in the month of December. Asylum seekers tend not to come because people don't like to travel Doreen. The Christmas season and the New Year's cease and so typically it's seasonal and they don't travel ban as we've seen in early January there is an enormous uptake in fact. Just this week we saw two enormous groups one of them was. The biggest ever crossed across into the United States this was a group of asylum seekers mostly from Guatemala 330. Parents with children's 376. In all so they're still coming in large numbers in fact in the Yuma sector I was just this morning. They are on track to quadruple. The number of families with children crossing into the US south will back to something that John mentioned that is so important. There is a policy it is always the policy of the US government. To detain and then sent to a trial people who enter the United States who have a past criminal record who were felons. So what they're doing it and what happened in the case have been separations is they basically enacted that rule saying all. They crossed into the US they committed a felony they commit an illegal act we will send them. Two a court in the sixty detained and during that time having to separate them because you can't have. Children be with adults in the general population of a detention center. But that's still happening to happen that happens every day along the border and that's because there are still and remain. Fell into cross all the time and right now they are crossing with children. The vast majority than their own children sometimes not. And in order to other protect those children or because these people are felons they are separating them from their Pham is it's not done that often but it's still done. Every single day along the borders of this is still very much of a a present concern. For everybody involved and to John's point the Border Patrol agents I was with yesterday the most important thing they need right now is humanitarian aid they need that. 800 million dollars that the president they have asked for the president is now asked for that should be earmarked towards humanitarian aid along the border. That's partly because we have seen this influx of families of parents with children crossing in. They're going into these detention centers DeVon that were designed for single adult males most of them from Mexico which means they could be kicked back to bounce back to Mexico within. A number of hours but these detainees are largely. From Central America and that means that we don't have the same the United States does not seem agreement with Central America you can't deport them immediately. Many of them are Seeking Asylum that means their applications have to be heard and sometimes they're hearing before a judge an immigration judge. Could be backlog by years so. It's a very complex system. The ultimate upshot is that we have many more parents with children stuck at these facilities than ever before. And that is what Border Patrol all these agencies along the border asking for help for so as we've been saying all along to some degree. There is a crisis along the border is just not the one the president has been talking about not so much a national security crisis but more of a humanitarian crisis. It's yet thanks Matt and wondering John called back and this is John it was speaking of the difference in perspective somewhat kind of a crisis this is the president this morning tweeting. About prayer rugs founded allegedly found in the desert suggests seen. A threat from Muslim terrorists perhaps he's been talking a little bit more about terrorism though he didn't mention it in his Oval Office address. I'd give us the bottom line on this there's no evidence that terrorists are pouring in across southern border isn't. Now there's no credible our objective intelligence. That suggests that foreign terrorists are. Going into Mexico or Central America. In any significant numbers and seeking to use that. This doesn't horror as a way to and Terry and I just also say that even if it's true that a prayer around was found a prayer around is not necessarily an indicator of terrorist activity. Yeah absolutely the president and we're seeing. The Stephen hear from the DHS spokeswoman saying that. The trump administration's continuing to rein in on unchecked illegal immigration at the border which which does continue. Com and John giving give us your sense of where things stand right now with with with teachers and Nielsen and this these efforts to build a border wall. We heard Max reporting that there in the flows continue to come. Do you think there's been any change in you know in in in opinion up on on Capitol Hill where suspect to the need for reinforcing the wall and he and some of these points we saw people crawling under the law on maps reporting. I mean Matt raises to really important points. On a fire back in my own position my advice to secretary to the president would be focused less on the border Wallin more on dealing with the increase in paid people at the border who are seeking. Asylum. But. Mass reporting is also important for another reason I mean he just told a story about. 300 some odd people who tunnels under a border while we're hearing from the Coast Guard that they are increasing. In her saps are in her addictions migrants in the Pacific Ocean and and that corresponds also with what we're seeing in the Caribbean. Illegal drugs are flying into this country. From the south but through the ports of entry through the Pacific. Through Ukrainian transit zones and there are recent reports it just came out that didn't confirm that firm's seven straight years. The overwhelming majority of undocumented aliens in this country. Didn't come across the southern border of the northern border but they flew here and are overstating their views at south. Border security footage of the southern borders important we have to stop criminals have to stop terrorists we have to stop illegal drugs. But the wall isn't the answer I and bass to provides a sense of. False comfort. Yeah at least it certainly is not the silver bullet and as we've heard me. Serve more thoughtful lawmakers talk about this it's a more holistic comprehensive. Approach to border security that conversation is not he had right now wish it was Jon Cohen thanks so much for coming in. On this Friday have a good weekend.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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