June 26, 2018

Luján Joins Letter to DOJ, DHS, and HHS Demanding Answers on Separated Children

WASHINGTON, DC - This morning, Congressman Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), along with House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM), and twenty Congressional Hispanic Caucus Members sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, and Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar demanding answers on the status and well-being of children separated from their parents at the border. In the letter, they request that these agencies provide detailed answers to questions about the whereabouts of these children, efforts underway to reunite them with their parents, and the conditions in which they are being kept, among others. The Members also ask for the designation of a federal official to serve as a point of contact to Members of Congress and provide daily status updates on these families and efforts to reunify them. 
 
“We are deeply concerned about the ongoing stress and trauma that innocent children have experienced since they were separated from their parents as part of the Administration’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy,”the Members write. “These children now find themselves held in cages and other settings completely unacceptable and detrimental to the physical and emotional well-being of children.  As the Administration seeks to quell the uproar created by this inhumane policy, we expect your departments will take every step necessary to reunite these children with their parents as quickly as possible.”
 
“The President should visit detention facilities and meet children and families for himself,” Congressman Luján said. “He should come in and see one of the little babies. Maybe hold one. Maybe he’ll feel something. Maybe it will help him make the right decision.”

The full text of the letter can be read hereor below.

June 26, 2018

The Honorable Jeff Sessions                                               
Attorney General                                                                   
U.S. Department of Justice                                                   
950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW                                             
Washington, DC 20530                                                        

The Honorable Alex M. Azar II
Secretary
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
200 Independence Avenue SW
Washington, DC 20201

The Honorable Kirstjen M. Nielsen
Secretary
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC 20528

Dear Attorney General Sessions, Secretary Azar, and Secretary Nielsen:

We are deeply concerned about the ongoing stress and trauma that innocent children have experienced since they were separated from their parents as part of the Administration’s “zero tolerance” policy.  These children now find themselves held in cages and other settings completely unacceptable and detrimental to the physical and emotional well-being of children.  As the Administration seeks to quell the uproar created by this inhumane policy, we expect your departments will take every step necessary to reunite these children with their parents as quickly as possible.

However, media reports suggest that there is currently no plan to ensure the safe return of these children to their parents.  In fact, early reports suggest that the departments and agencies detaining these children do not have current contact information for the vast majority of parents, which is deeply alarming and presents a significant obstacle in ensuring the timely reunification of families.  We therefore call on you to provide us with your detailed plan for reuniting these children with their parents by close of business on Wednesday, June 27. 

In addition, given the national concern for the well-being and health of these children, we ask that you designate a lead federal official to oversee family reunification efforts and to serve as a single point of contact for keeping Congress up to date on this effort.  Specifically, we ask that this official provide us with a daily status update that includes, at a minimum, the following information:

Status of Separated Family Members and Reunification Efforts. 

How many children have been separated from their parents and taken into Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) custody since the “zero tolerance policy” was initiated in May?  How many parents have had their children taken from them and been detained in federal custody?

  1. Of the total number of children taken into DHS custody, how many remain in DHS custody?  What is the average length of stay for children in DHS or HHS custody? Please break this down by sex and age.
  2. Of the total number of children taken into DHS custody, how many have been transferred to Health and Human Services (HHS) / Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) custody?  How many remain in ORR custody?
  3. Of the total number of children taken into DHS or HHS custody, how many have been reunited with their parents at a location inside the United States?
  4. Of the total number of children taken into DHS or HHS custody, how many have been reunited with their parents at a location outside the United States?
  5. Of the total number of children taken into DHS or HHS custody, how many have been released into the custody of a family member other than a parent?  What is the plan for reuniting any such children with their parents?
  6. Of the total number of children taken into DHS or HHS custody, how many have been released to the custody of an adult who is not a family member?  What is the plan for reuniting any such children with their parents?
  7. Of the parents of separated children taken into federal custody, how many remain in federal custody?
  8. Of the parents of separated children taken into federal custody, how many have been released from custody into the interior of the United States?  Of these, how many have been reunited with their children?  How many are still waiting to be reunited with their children?
  9. Of the parents of separated children taken into federal custody, how many have been released from custody and subsequently removed from the United States?  Of these, how many have been reunited with their children?  How many are still waiting to be reunited with their children?
  10. How are you connecting separated families and ensuring that all have access to counsel?
  11. For those parents who have been deported without their children, how is the U.S. government working with the respective consulates to assist with family reunification?

    Ensuring the Welfare and Well-being of Children Not Yet Reunited with Parents. 

Are all children who were separated from their parents pursuant to the “zero tolerance” policy currently being cared for in settings that meet the national standards set forth in the Flores Settlement? 

  1. How many are being detained in small group settings or homes?
  2. How many are being detained in shelters unlicensed by the states in which they are located?
  3. How many are being warehoused in large facilities?
  4. How many are being held in cage-like enclosures?
  5. How many are being kept in tents?
  6. How many are being kept on military bases?
  7. How many do not have beds in which to sleep?
  8. How many do not have clothing appropriate to the temperature or other conditions in which they are being held?
  9. How many have been able to talk by phone at least once with their parents or guardians since they were separated?  How many have been able to talk with their parents or guardians on a regular basis?
  10. How many, to date, have received medical attention?  How many are receiving medical attention on an ongoing basis?
  11. How many, to date, have received trauma care or other counseling?  How many are receiving counseling on an ongoing basis?
  12. How many, to date, have been afforded legal assistance?
  13. How many DHS and HHS personnel are able to speak the indigenous languages of some of the separated children and parents to ensure timely reunification?

We look forward to your response to our letter and to receiving the daily updates requested above.

Sincerely,

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 Rep

Rep. Grace F. Napolitano

Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez

Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez

Rep. Darren Soto

Rep. Jimmy Gomez        

Rep. Ruben J. Kihuen

Rep. Tony Cárdenas       

Rep. Ben Ray Luján

Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán       

Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva

Rep. Albio Sires

Rep. Juan Vargas

Rep. Norma J. Torres

Rep. J. Luis Correa

Rep. Salud O. Carbajal

Rep. Vicente Gonzalez