The National Coalition for History has called on Congress to investigate claims that federal agencies with jurisdiction over enforcing immigration policy have grossly mismanaged their recordkeeping responsibilities during the recent crisis along the Nation’s southwest border. NCH sent letters to the House and Senate committees with oversight over immigration and the National Archives and Records Administration.
The New York Times (“Trump Administration in Chaotic Scramble to Reunify Migrant Families”) recently reported on the apparent disappearance and/or destruction of records by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) linking children to their parents separated by the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy. A Washington Post article found, “Caseworkers and government health officials had to sift by hand through the files of all the nearly 12,000 migrant children in HHS custody to figure out which ones had arrived with parents, where the adults were jailed and how to put the families back together.”
As a result of the New York Times article, the National Archives and Records Administration recently sent a letter to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) seeking what “action CBP will take to address these allegations.”
In its letter, NCH alleged this major breakdown in records and information management practices is a potential violation of the Federal Records Act (FRA). Although the National Archives and Records Administration is mandated to assist agencies in the records management process, it has limited authority and resources to require proper management of agency records.
NCH strongly urged Congress to exercise its oversight responsibility in ensuring that federal agencies are held accountable for their responsibilities under the FRA. Such oversight is overdue. Neither the House nor the Senate committees with jurisdiction over NARA have held an oversight hearing in a decade.
Incidents such as this remind us that the inappropriate loss or destruction of public records reverberates through time. Years from now, these children or their children will want to discover how they came to America. Historians and policy-makers will want to understand what happened in this complex chapter of American immigration history. Future scholars will want to accurately portray the history of the Trump presidency. Inspecting original documents is the only hope we have of getting close to historical accuracy; without these documents and the rigorous methods of professional historians, we descend into pure—and often partisan—speculation.