The administration of US President Donald Trump has lost track of some 6,000 unaccompanied immigrant children last year, a huge increase from the official figures Washington released earlier this year.
The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) prompted criticism in April after revealing that some 1,475 immigrants placed with sponsors across the US were virtually unreachable.
However, the administration’s own numbers suggest that officials have been trying to locate thousands more children.
The HHS has recently called the sponsors of over 7,000 immigrant children resettled between October and December last year.
The department attempted to locate 7,635 children and found out that only 6,075 remained with their sponsors. According the HHS, 28 immigrant children had run away, five had been removed from the country, and 52 had relocated to live with a non-sponsor over this period.
Stephen Wagner, the acting assistant secretary of the Administration for Children and Families, said that 14 percent of the 7,635 sponsors never responded to the department's calls.
But that is only a small part of the 42,497 unaccompanied minors that the HHS resettled in the last fiscal year and Wagner's 14 percent estimate means the total number of “lost” minors is at least 5,945.
A former HHS employee, who was tasked with placed some of the calls to sponsors, confirmed that there were “a lot more” children unaccounted for than Washington was willing to admit.
“You can bet that the numbers are higher. It doesn’t really give you a real picture,” the unnamed worker told local media.
Defying criticism about the 1,500 “lost” children fiasco, the HHS said earlier this year that it was not responsible for the possible whereabouts of immigrant children after they leave its custody.
Wegner also criticized the assumption that the children were “lost,” saying there were a lot of reasons that the children or sponsors do not respond to government’s calls.
“There's no reason to believe anything has happened to the kids,” Wagner said.
The Trump administration has come under fire for its “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which has seen a growing number of children being separated from their families at the US border.
Nearly 2,000 children have been separated from their parents since the zero tolerance law was enacted in April. Trump signed an executive order to end the law on Wednesday.