Contrary to DHS Secretary Nielsen’s Statements, This is NOT What Happens “Every Day” With Parents Facing Criminal Charges
According to the Washington Post, “The head of the Department of Homeland Security [Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen] defended the Trump administration’s practice of separating children from parents when the family is being prosecuted for entering the U.S. illegally, telling a Senate committee Tuesday that removing children from parents facing criminal charges happens “‘in the United States every day.’”
Secretary Nielsen is wrong. Unlike state systems for children of parents facing criminal charges “every day,” the system that Secretary Nielsen’s policy relies upon severely lacks basic protections for the safety of children.
State Child Welfare Systems: According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ), state child welfare systems generally monitor and ensure the safety and health of children separated from parents due to parent incarceration throughout the entire period of parent-child separation. Furthermore, state child welfare systems have systems in place to vett foster parents prior and during placement, require check-ins every six months or more, require plans to reunite with the parent, and have systems to encourage and ensure contact with parents throughout the entire period of separation.
Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Children’s Services: Children separated from their parents at the border are sent to the Division of Children’s Serviceswithin HHS. After HHS releases a child to a sponsor, generally within 51 days in HHS care, HHS has long interpreted its legal responsibility to end, regardless of whether the parent remains incarcerated, deported, or otherwise not reunited with the child. There is no further contact with the child or sponsor except for one phone call 30 days after placement. Furthermore, HHS claims that once a child is placed with a sponsor, responsibility lies with the state welfare agency of the child’s residence, but HHS does not notify state child welfare systems after placement with sponsors, leaving no one in place to ensure the safety of that child. As a result of this process, HHS admits that it lost track of 1,475 children of 7,635 children, or 24%, in their custody during a three-month period and HHS claims no legal responsibility for that loss.
Moreover, in direct opposition to state child welfare principles as described above, DHS and HHS have no system in place to encourage or ensure contact between separated children and their parents. On the contrary – parents are not told where their children are and communication is often impossible. Parents are routinely deported without their children and with little or no information on how to contact them.
No Plan to Address The Severe Lack of Care for Children: DHS and HHS have no Joint Plan of Operations to ensure the care and safety of children in their custody and do not plan on issuing one until July 30. Secretary Nielsen even admits that DHS and HHS can do more to ensure the safety of children.
Ur Jaddou, Director of DHS Watch, a new project of America’s Voice, said “Secretary Nielsen is under the mistaken belief that there is an equivalent federal system of care for children as provided by states. In fact, there isn’t. It is not only cruel to separate children from parents for the purpose of deterrence, it is also irresponsible and inhumane to insist on forcibly separating children and drastically grow the numbers of children in federal care before a basic system is in place to protect them.”
Michelle Brané, Director of the Migrant Rights and Justice Program At the Women’s Refugee Commission, said “Unlike in the state system, the HHS system in place for the custody of unaccompanied children has no process for maintaining contact or relationships between children and parents separated due to immigration detention or incarceration. Once separated it is extremely difficult and sometimes impossible to reunite or even communicate. The federal government is separating children from their parents with no plan in place for reunification or maintaining the welfare of children, and in doing so jeopardizing not only their welfare, but in many cases, their ability to seek asylum and safety.”