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Whitaker: 'I don't believe we were tracking' family separations

Posted: 2:50 PM, Feb 08, 2019
Updated: 2019-02-08 17:37:04-05

During a fiery hearing Friday , acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker conceded that the administration was not tracking prosecutions of parents and legal guardians separated from children after being apprehended at the US-Mexico border.

Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington posed the question in a heated exchange with Whitaker.

"Before or after the zero tolerance policy was put into place -- and I call it the 'zero humanity' policy -- did the US attorneys track when they were prosecuting a parent or legal guardian who had been separated from their child? There's only one answer to this. It's gone through the courts," Jayapal said.

"Did we track it?" Whitaker responded.

Jayapal followed up: "Did you track when you were prosecuting a parent or legal guardian who had been separated from a child?"

"I don't believe we were tracking that," Whitaker said.

The administration's controversial "zero tolerance" policy required that all adults apprehended at the border be subject to criminal prosecution, resulting in families being separated.

Whitaker repeated that "there was no family separation policy," despite a leaked memo among senior government officials revealing that the administration planned to separate families to deter migrants from coming to the US-Mexico border.

"I'm sorry, there was no family separation policy. There was a zero tolerance policy," he said.

A report from the Government Accountability Office and a Health and Human Services inspector general report have since revealed the chaos and confusion among federal agencies as the policy was rolled out. That IG report, specifically, found that thousands of children had been separated prior to the policy being publicly announced.

When asked if the Justice Department provided advanced notice to other agencies, Whitaker repeatedly referred to the news conference by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions in May 2018.

He later added: "The responsibility for the arrest, the detention and together with the custody of the children was handled by DHS and HHS before those people were ever transferred to DOJ custody through the US Marshals."