Rosen, Carbajal Demand Answers from Administration on False Claims about Family Reunification

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Washington, May 10, 2019 | comments

Today, U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Congressman Salud Carbajal (CA-24) sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar regarding recently unearthed documentation detailing the Administration’s willful deception of Members of Congress and the American people on their plans and capacity to reunite separated immigrant families, as well as requesting detailed information on medical treatment for detained children.

 

“We write to express our grave concerns about misleading information we received last year from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS),” said Senator Rosen and Congressman Carbajal. “We are appalled at recent news reports and internal documents showing that officials at DHS and HHS knew they did not have enough information to reunite families successfully. We request your immediate response to our questions regarding systemic reforms necessary to protect vulnerable children. Last year, on June 25, 2018, we traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border to tour the Tornillo Unaccompanied Minor Facility in Tornillo and Paso del Norte Processing Center in El Paso, Texas. During our visit, we inquired about the issue of migrant families being separated at the border and were told by leadership in those DHS and HHS facilities that the Departments had the necessary information to reunite separated families.”

 

In June 2018, Rosen and Carbajal traveled together to Texas to visit a facility housing unaccompanied immigrant minors in Tornillo and U.S. Custom and Border Protection’s Paso del Norte Processing Center in El Paso. DHS and HHS personnel assured them that their agencies had the information and resources needed to reunite separated migrant families.

 

View the letter here, or read the full text of the letter below:

 

Dear Acting Secretary McAleenan and Secretary Azar:

 

We write to express our grave concerns about misleading information we received last year from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Following the Administration’s systematic and intentional separation of migrant children from their parents at the border beginning in the spring of 2018, we met with DHS and HHS officials at the U.S.-Mexico border who assured us that the agency had the necessary information to reunite migrant families at the time the separations occurred. We are appalled at recent news reports and internal documents showing that officials at DHS and HHS knew they did not have enough information to reunite families successfully.  We request your immediate response to our questions regarding systemic reforms necessary to protect vulnerable children. 

 

Last year, on June 25, 2018, we traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border to tour the Tornillo Unaccompanied Minor Facility in Tornillo and Paso del Norte Processing Center in El Paso, Texas. During our visit, we inquired about the issue of migrant families being separated at the border and were told by leadership in those DHS and HHS facilities that the Departments had the necessary information to reunite separated families. However, it has become apparent that the answers we were provided by DHS and HHS officials were not only inaccurate, but deliberately misleading. 

 

Recently, The Hill published an article reporting that DHS and HHS officials were aware of the lack of data collection to successfully reunite migrant children with their families. Just two days before our visit, on June 23, 2018, an HHS official told a top DHS official that, “[I]n short, no, we do not have any linkages from parents to [children]…We have a list of parent alien numbers but no way to link them to children.” On that same day, DHS issued a fact sheet claiming the Department knew the location of all children in its custody, had a process for families to know the location of their children, and had a central database that DHS and HHS could access and update. News reports now confirm that was unequivocally false. 

 

Additionally, news reports have raised concerns cited by pediatricians about the lack of appropriate and immediate medical treatment for migrant children at shelters overseen by the Office of Refugee Resettlement under HHS. These reports suggest that shelters have neglected to provide proper medical attention to sick children, psychiatric treatment for children with psychological trauma, and timely vaccinations for children and infants.  

 

Given these deeply troubling reports, we request that you provide responses to the following questions:

 

1.)      Did DHS or HHS knowingly provide inaccurate and misleading information to separated children, their family members, Members of Congress, and the public regarding having the necessary information to reunify separated families? If not, at what point did DHS senior management become aware of the fact that the agency lacked the tools to reunify separated families?

2.)      Is DHS continuing to separate families? If so, for what reasons are families are still being separated? This could include relatives such as parents, siblings, uncles, aunts, grandparents, cousins, nieces, and nephews.

3.)      When did your Departments begin to collect information sufficient to successfully link children to their families?

4.)      What changes have been made to DHS and HHS tracking system/s to ensure that children and families can be reunited? Please provide the fully detailed process for tracking separated children, from the minute DHS officials first make contact with migrant families to moment families are finally reunited. 

5.)      How many children separated from their families at the border remain in DHS or HHS custody today?

6.)      What is the expected time frame for reuniting children still in custody with their families?

7.)      What are DHS and HHS doing to ensure unaccompanied, separated, and reunited migrant children and infants in federal custody receive appropriate and immediate health screenings, psychological treatment, and timely vaccinations?

 

We urge you to provide a complete and thorough response to our letter. Please provide us with a response by the close of business on Friday, May 17th, 2019.

 

Sincerely,

 

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