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A reunited Honduran father and son who are seeking asylum in the U.S. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

While Attorney General Jeff Sessions and other top government officials encouraged immigrants to go to legal ports of entry to avoid family separation, border officials were regulating how many immigrants were allowed to reach those ports, according to a new report by the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General.

Why it matters: Preventing some immigrants to enter legally likely led to an increase in illegal border crossings, the IG report concluded. The report by the government watchdog confirms earlier, ongoing reporting on the chaos of family separation under Sessions' zero-tolerance policy.

Key takeaways:

  • Prolonged detention for kids: Legally, Customs and Border Protection is only allowed to keep unaccompanied minors in detention for up to 3 days, but between early May and late June, a third of kids were held at least 4 days. The maximum time a child was kept in CBP custody was 25 days.
  • Lack of data and communication made it difficult for ICE, CBP, the Justice Department and Health and Human Services to coordinate and track migrant children and their parents, according to the report.
  • Key quote: While Homeland Security and Health and Human Services announced in late June that they had "a central database" with this information on separated migrant families, "OIG found no evidence that such a database exists." Instead, they found a "manually-compiled spreadsheet" which was created after the announcement.
  • Missing children: When Homeland Security initially provided the IG with family separation data, "the list was missing a number of children OIG had independently identified as having been separated from an adult."
  • Poor communication with parents: Immigration officials also provided inconsistent information to migrant parents, per the report, which resulted in some not understanding their children would be taken from them and others unable to communicate with their kids after being separated.

The bottom line: "The OIG’s observations indicate that DHS was not fully prepared to implement the Zero Tolerance Policy, or to deal with certain effects of the policy following implementation."

  • DHS spokeswoman Katie Waldman pushed back in a statement: "The report fails to understand where the Zero Tolerance Policy took effect: in between the ports of entry." She added CBP will continue to process asylum seekers' claims, but the "administration will no longer turn a blind eye to illegal immigration and will continue to refer illegal border crossers for prosecution."

Go deeper

President Joe Biden vows to be "a president for all Americans"

Moments after taking the oath of office, President Joe Biden sought to soothe a nation riven by political divisions and a global pandemic, while warning that "we have far to go" to heal the country and defeat a "virus that silently stalks the the country."

Why it matters: From the same steps that a pro-Trump mob launched an assault on Congress two weeks earlier, the new president paid deference to the endurance of American political institutions.

Updated 42 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Inauguration Day dashboard

U.S. Capitol and stage are lit at sunrise ahead of the inauguration of Joe Biden. Photo: Patrick Semansky - Pool/Getty Images

President Biden has delivered his inaugural address at the Capitol, calling for an end to the politics as total war but warning that "we have far to go" to heal the country.

What's next: Biden and Vice President Harris review readiness of military troops, a long-standing tradition to signify the peaceful transfer of power.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

In photos: The Biden and Harris inauguration

Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th president of the United States. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were inaugurated as president and vice president respectively in a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday morning.

Why it matters: Top Democrats and Republicans gathered for the peaceful transfer of power only two weeks after an unprecedented siege on the building by Trump supporters to disrupt certification of Biden's victory. Trump did not attend Wednesday's ceremony.