Commentary: U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, along with 40 other Democratic senators, introduced legislation to keep immigrant families together and prevent the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from taking children from their parents at the border. The Keep Families Together Act would prohibit the separation of children from their parents or legal guardians at or near ports of entry or within 100 miles of the border, unless they are being trafficked or abused by their parents. The legislation was developed in consultation with child welfare experts to ensure the federal government is acting in the best interest of children and is supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, Kids In Need of Defense (KIND), Children’s Law Center, Young Center for Immigrant Rights, and the Women's Refugee Commission.
In June 2018, Udall and Heinrich traveled to the border to visit Tornillo, Texas, where they examined a temporary tent facility housing children, many of whom had been separated from their parents as a result the Trump administration’s family separation policy. They witnessed firsthand the devastating consequences of a ‘zero-tolerance’ approach, and demanded that the administration immediately reunite separated children with their families. Udall and Heinrich also urged greater Congressional oversight into the Trump administration’s plans to reunite families, and fought to hold the Trump administration accountable for its family separation policy.
“The Trump administration’s failed and inhumane family separation policy is leaving a lasting stain on our country’s history,” said Udall. “We continue to uncover new and disturbing revelations about how the administration carried out this shameful policy, showing that the Trump administration’s utter cruelty has perhaps been surpassed only by its sheer incompetence and mismanagement. Child welfare and pediatric experts confirm what we already know: the Trump administration’s actions likely caused lasting trauma for thousands of children and families – most of whom had already experienced grave hardship, fleeing their home countries in search of safety at our borders. The Trump administration ripped apart families, as children and babies were torn away from their parents and sent to detention facilities, and caused unconscionable harm to separated children, many of whom are still suffering from the emotional, physical, and psychological consequences of their horrific experience. As a border state senator, I’m proud to stand together with New Mexicans in condemning this cruel and unnecessary policy. I will continue to hold this administration accountable, and fight to make sure this never happens again and that all children are reunited with their families.”
“The president’s inhumane and reckless immigration policies continue to put the lives of children in danger. Family separation inflicts permanent trauma on innocent children and their parents, many of whom are fleeing violence and seeking asylum,” said Heinrich. “Ripping children as young as infants and toddlers away from their parents as a form of punishment or deterrence is morally indefensible. We must hold the White House accountable for adhering to our laws and to American values.”
Last year, the Trump administration formally implemented a “zero-tolerance” policy, directing the Department of Justice (DOJ) to criminally prosecute all adults who arrive at the border without documentation — including those attempting to seek asylum — for the misdemeanor offense of illegal entry. This policy, which had never before been pursued, resulted in thousands of children being separated from their parents or guardians, and inflicted enormous short- and long-term trauma on affected families. Litigation challenging the policy revealed that 2,737 children were separated from their parents and detained in the custody of Health and Human Services as of June 26, 2018.
More recently, a report by the Health and Human Services Inspector General (IG) released earlier this month concluded that thousands more children may have been separated from their parents prior to June 26. Since the Trump administration failed to implement a system to track children separated from their parents, it was not possible for the IG to give a precise number. Just as troubling, the IG report discovered that hundreds of children were separated from their parents after the court issued its order barring separations. Recent statements from the administration also suggest that it may not be able to reunite some families after a number of records linking parents with their children have disappeared, and in some cases were destroyed.
The full text of the legislation is available HERE.