Hoyer, Lujan Grisham, Congressional Hispanic Caucus Members Continue to Demand Answers on Children Still Separated from their Parents
WASHINGTON, DC - Today, Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (MD), Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) Chair Michelle Lujan Grisham (NM-01), and 18 Members of the CHC sent a follow-up letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions demanding answers about the number and status of children separated from their parents still held in detention facilities. On June 26, they sent a letter to the same cabinet officials asking for details on the separated children and the Trump Administration’s plans to reunite them with their parents. However, the Administration has not been able to adequately respond to the questions raised by Members.
“Since the Administration instituted and rescinded the zero-tolerance policy, which purposefully targeted and separated migrant children from their parents, we have yet to see the Administration present a cohesive, well-executed inter-agency plan or inter-governmental coordination with Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Mexico to ensure that these children are reunited with their families,” the Members wrote in today’s follow-up letter. “In fact, Deputy Secretary Hargan’s response to our June 26 letter demonstrated that the Administration was ill-equipped to answer the basic, factual questions posed in our letter, which resulted in the failure of many of these families being reunified and more than 400 parents deported without their children.”
“Our concerns regarding the welfare of these children have only intensified following the failure of the government to complete family reunification and the repeated instances in which media reports and interviews with parents and children have made it apparent that the Administration has misled the American people about its policies and their consequences,” the letter concludes. “With all the resources at the Administration’s disposal, it is shocking that the federal government has been unable to resolve this human tragedy and has called on others to resolve this Administration-created crisis. We urge you to redouble the Administration’s efforts to close this cruel chapter in the Trump Administration’s history and reunite these families immediately.”
“It is incomprehensible that the Administration is still detaining hundreds of children and keeping these families separated,” Whip Hoyer said. “It is a humanitarian tragedy. These children and their parents must be reunited - not only because the courts have ordered so but because America is better than this. The Trump Administration must end these separations now.”
“This administration’s continued failure to quickly and humanely reunify the hundreds of children and parents they separated is devastating to the families, harmful to the wellbeing of children, and shows an utter and complete disregard for the court ordered deadline imposed weeks ago,” said CHC Chair Lujan Grisham. “On July 25, the DHS Secretary guaranteed CHC Members that families would be reunified by the first court ordered deadline, yet weeks later disturbing reports have surfaced of a child dying after being held in a detention center and other children still languish in inexcusable conditions. This is unacceptable and a dereliction of duty. We demand immediate answers and accountability from an administration that tore families apart without any consideration for its destructive consequences.”
To read the full text of today’s letter, click here or see below.
September 4, 2018
The Honorable Kirstjen Nielsen
Secretary of Homeland Security
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
245 Murray Lane SW
Washington, DC 20528
The Honorable Alex Azar
Secretary of Health & Human Services
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
200 Independence Ave SW
Washington, DC 20201
The Honorable Mike Pompeo
Secretary of State
U.S Department of State
2201 C St NW
Washington, DC 20520
The Honorable Jefferson Sessions
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20530
Dear Secretaries Nielsen, Azar, Pompeo and Attorney General Sessions:
We write to follow up on our June 26th letter concerning the Administration’s zero-tolerance policy and its impact on the health and well-being of the thousands of children that were separated from their parents following the launch of this policy. Now that Judge Sabraw’s July 10th and July 26th deadlines have passed and DHS and HHS failed to reunite all children with their families, we write to follow up on the status and plan to reunify the more than 500 children that remain separated from their parents.
Since the Administration instituted and rescinded the zero-tolerance policy, which purposefully targeted and separated migrant children from their parents, we have yet to see the Administration present a cohesive, well-executed inter-agency plan or inter-governmental coordination with Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Mexico to ensure that these children are reunited with their families. In fact, Deputy Secretary Hargan’s response to our June 26 letter demonstrated that the Administration was ill-equipped to answer the basic, factual questions posed in our letter, which resulted in the failure of many of these families being reunified and more than 400 parents deported without their children.
It is unacceptable, given the trauma inflicted on these children and their families, that the Administration failed completely to plan for the readily foreseeable consequences of its zero-tolerance policy, neglected to take basic steps to ensure that necessary information critical to reuniting separated family members was maintained and updated for the duration of their time in federal custody, and now, as a result of these omissions and errors, has failed to complete reunification for these separated families. It is equally unacceptable that the Administration is deliberately slowing reunification by claiming that some parents are ineligible for reunification when the charges against them are not confirmed or the agency used relatively minor charges to justify separation. And it is reprehensible that in many cases parents facing deportation were, apparently, deceived into thinking their children would join them on the trip back to their country of origin when, in fact, the Administration planned to keep their children in custody.
It is the federal government’s responsibility and obligation to ensure that every child that was separated is reunited with their parent or close family member. We, therefore, renew our request for a daily status update. Further, we ask that you provide answers to the following basic sets of questions from our previous letter, in the hope that a focus on answering these questions will help the Administration better understand the task in front of it and complete the reunification effort:
1. Current Status of Children. How many of the children have been reunited with their parents? How many of these children have been released into the custody of a family member other than a parent? How many of these children remain in your Administration’s custody? How are the State Department, HHS and DHS coordinating with the respective countries to ensure timely communication, location and reunification of these parents? How many of the children whose parents were deported have been able to communicate regularly with their parents during the period of separation?
2. Suitability of Child Detention Sites. We have heard of several concerning reports of children being given psychotropic drugs while in HHS care, of children being placed in solitary confinement, and, more alarmingly, of children being abused, neglected and even several cases of youth dying in these facilities. These concerning reports ultimately led a judge to call for an independent audit of conditions in detention centers. How many instances of abuse have been reported since the start of the zero-tolerance policy? What procedures does the Administration follow when sexual abuse is alleged at facilities operated by its contractors? What consequences does HHS impose if it determines that a contractor has failed in its responsibility to appropriately safeguard the children in its custody?
3. Separated Parents. Regarding the more than 400 parents who have been deported, what is the plan to reunite these parents with their children? Many of the parents who were deported were likely coerced into signing deportation orders or signed without understanding all their rights or what they consented to. Will these cases be reopened? Will these parents be given the opportunity to return to the United States on humanitarian parole in order to be reunified and seek protection here? What is the process by which parents are advised of their right to reunify with their children and when are parents advised of this right? Please describe exactly what the Administration is doing to locate and reunify these parents with their children and how the Administration is working with the consulates. How many times have U.S. agencies met with consulates to exchange data and information on separated families in order to locate the deported parents? Regarding parents deemed "ineligible" for reunification because of allegations of criminal conduct, has the Administration provided detailed evidence to the parents and their attorneys supporting the allegations against them? Are these “eligible” parents given the opportunity to defend themselves against those allegations?
Our concerns regarding the welfare of these children have only intensified following the failure of the government to complete family reunification and the repeated instances in which media reports and interviews with parents and children have made it apparent that the Administration has misled the American people about its policies and their consequences. With all the resources at the Administration’s disposal, it is shocking that the federal government has been unable to resolve this human tragedy and has called on others to resolve this Administration-created crisis. We urge you to redouble the Administration’s efforts to close this cruel chapter in the Trump Administration’s history and reunite these families immediately.
Again, we look forward to getting daily updates on the questions above as we exercise the Congress’s oversight responsibility on this issue.
Rep. Steny H. Hoyer
House Democratic Whip
Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham
Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair
Rep. Joaquin Castro
Congressional Hispanic Caucus First Vice-Chair
Rep. Ruben Gallego
Congressional Hispanic Caucus Second Vice-Chair
Rep. Pete Aguilar
Congressional Hispanic Caucus Whip
Rep. Adriano Espaillat
Congressional Hispanic Caucus Freshman Representative
Rep. J. Luis Correa
Rep. Jimmy Gomez
Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán
Rep. Tony Cárdenas
Rep. Grace F. Napolitano
Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva
Rep. Ben Ray Luján
Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez
Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez
Rep. Salud O. Carbajal
Rep. Jose E. Serrano
Rep. Ruben J. Kihuen
Rep. Albio Sires
Rep. Juan Vargas