Family

Trump Administration Officials Correct the Record on Family Separation Crisis

House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat, set a strident tone and called the policy akin to 'kidnapping'

Image Credit: JULIO CESAR AGUILAR & NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

Administration officials corrected House Democrats during a hearing on Tuesday morning about the way in which they’ve painted the separation of migrant family members.

President Donald Trump has worked to stop illegal immigration and illegitimate asylum claims in this country.

But in that effort, the administration implemented a policy that resulted in children being separated from the adults who illegally brought them into the country. The adults and the children were and are not always family relatives.

The House Judiciary Committee hosted the hearing to hear from officials about the situation.

Related: Even the Obama Justice Department Predicted the Explosion of Family Migration Units 

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), taking a strident tone at the outset, went as far as to call the policy akin to “kidnapping” during the hearing.

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He also chastised the administration for stonewalling document requests from six months ago until the night before the hearing.

He made clear that the point of the hearing was to hold the administration accountable.

“The House Judiciary Committee will seek to finally hold the administration accountable for its indefensible and repugnant family separation policy,” Nadler said. “Even now, months after the height of the crisis created by the administration’s implementation of its cruel, inhumane and anti-immigrant policies, basic questions remain unanswered.”

Nadler articulated four questions he planned to ask the panel of experts: why the administration thought separating families was a good idea; who was responsible for developing and implementing the policy; what were, and are, they doing to reunite all separated families; and what were and are the plans in place to help traumatized children.

“The department did so in such a reckless way that it even failed to capture sufficient information to identify which child belonged to which parent,” Nadler said. “When a stranger rips a child from a parent’s arms without a plan to reunion them, that is called kidnapping. This administration is responsible for the harm suffered by thousands of children and their parents and must be held accountable.”

Trump first directed his administration to establish guidelines and allocate resources to immigration offenses around the southern border in an executive order from early 2017. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions later issued a memo with guidelines for prioritizing certain offenses, such as illegal entry, in April 2017.

Sessions later released another memo to implement a zero tolerance policy for the prosecution of illegal immigrants in April 2018. James McHenry, the director for the executive office for immigration review at the Department of Justice, pushed back during the hearing over the common claim that the administration implemented a family separation policy.

“Neither executive order 13767, nor the April 2017 memorandum, nor the April 2018 memorandum created a policy of family separation,” said McHenry. “The zero tolerance prosecution initiative is simple. It makes clear that those who violate our criminal immigration laws  are referred to prosecution by DHS.”

Related: The First Active-Duty Troops Arrive at the U.S. Border

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) oversees agencies that deal with immigration. When children were separated from adults, they were transferred to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for care. The Trump administration has since made migrants applying for asylum wait on the other side of the southern border while their claims are processed so that they don’t disappear into our country while their claims are being processed.

Trump soon after rescinded that policy; a later court case compelled the administration to reunite many of the children who were separated from adults. The administration was also compelled to reunite children in response to the court order in a class action lawsuit from June 2018.

Nadler questioned whether the agencies involved were prepared when the order was issued. Kathryn Larin, acting director of the Government Accountability Office, had said during a previous hearing on February 7 that the agencies weren’t prepared for the initiative.

“We have the ability to track. We’ve always had the ability to track,” said Carla Provost, chief of the U.S. Border Patrol, on Tuesday. “We did not have a searchable field prior to that time frame focused specifically on separated members of families. Every separation that was done back during that time and since has had alien registration numbers tied to the parent with the child.”

Many migrants who get caught crossing the border illegally then claim asylum. Under previous administrations, illegal immigrants were often released a short time after claiming asylum. They were asked to return for a court date to determine their claims — with no guarantee they would show up.

Many adults have children with them; but the process to access asylum claims can usually take longer than officials are allowed to hold children. The Department of Homeland Security explained in February 2018 that the problem stems from a settlement agreement in 1997. The agreement put strict restrictions on holding a child for more than 20 days.

It is worth noting that in 2000, roughly 98 percent of illegal border crossers were adults traveling alone. But nearly 40 percent of the illegal immigrants CBP officers apprehended in fiscal year 2018 were children traveling by themselves or children and adults traveling together.

Related: Trump Threatens Southern Border Shutdown

The problem even became more complicated over the past year as large groups of migrants approached the border. The migrant caravans, as they are called, have sometimes included thousands of migrants — with many seeking asylum. That surge of migrants has caused tensions along the southern border and a contentious policy dispute among lawmakers.

Trump and his administration have expressed concern over the nefarious individuals and entities who might and often are hidden among the caravans. The Department of Homeland Security confirmed in October that some individuals within the caravan are gang members or have significant criminal histories.

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