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What We Learned and Still Don’t Know Following Yesterday’s Hearing on Trump Family Separation Policy

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Yesterday, the House Judiciary Committee held an oversight hearing on Trump’s family separation policy with key government witnesses from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Border Patrol, Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR), and Health and Human Services (HHS).  Despite serious and lasting harm in separating children, key officials admitted they did not express concern over the family separation policy or were just doing their job. They said they were so focussed on tracking successful prosecutions of people seeking asylum that they paid no attention to welfare of the children and families severely harmed by the policy.  And, in the first place, the children suffering the most under this policy were fleeing violence in Central America and lawfully seeking asylum and safety in the U.S. Below are just some of the key points from the hearing.

Key Officials Admit They Never Expressed Concern Over Family Separation or Were Just Doing Their Job In Spite of Evidence of Serious Harm to Children

During the hearing (and at a previous hearing of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Investigations), U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps Commander Jonathan White stated that he raised serious concerns regarding family separation to his superiors given his and HHS’ expertise on child welfare issues.  Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) asked one of White’s superiors testifying during yesterday’s hearing, former director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement Scott Lloyd, whether he told anyone we should stop the family separation policy given the grave and lasting harm of separation to children.  Lloyd’s response: “I did not.” Watch the testimony here.

Representative Sylvia Garcia (D-TX) asked each witness in yesterday’s hearing whether they recognized or raised concerns of harm to children regarding the Trump family separation policy.  With the exception of Commander White, witnesses either said they did not or they were just doing their job to prosecute parents. Watch the testimony here.

Trump Administration Was Concerned with Tracking Prosecutions of Parents Seeking Protection, Not Families It Separated

In response to questioning by Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY), the Border Patrol Chief Provost admitted that the Border Patrol was focused on tracking how well they were doing in prosecuting parents than in tracking families being harmed by the separation policy.  Therefore, they were woefully unprepared for the serious consequences of prosecuting parents seeking protection from violence or an opportunity for a better life, thereby causing serious and lasting harm to children. Watch the testimony here.

Border Patrol Chief Admits No Trauma Experts Consulted Before Implementing Family Separation Policy & Separations Continue Without Child Welfare Expert Input

After initially obfuscating, the Border Patrol Chief Provost admitted that no trauma experts have been consulted in developing protocols and training for agents conducting physical separation of children from parents.  Watch the testimony here.

Representative Karen Bass (D-CA) pressed the Border Patrol Chief Provost on continuing family separations.  She noted that unlike separations that occur across the country by, with consultation, and based on well-established child welfare standards complete with hearings and appeals processes, separations occuring at the border occur by agents alone, not by trained child welfare experts or using well-established child welfare standards.  Watch the testimony here.

Border Patrol Chief Says Asylum Seekers Should Go to Border Checkpoints, But Fails to Note that Many Asylum Seekers are Being Turned Away by DHS at Checkpoints

Like Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen famously stated on May 10, 2018, during the hearing the Border Patrol Chief Provost made a plea for asylum seekers to seek protection at border checkpoints.  Yet, she said nothing about addressing serious backlogs created by “metering” at border checkpoints, the policy by which DHS is drastically limiting the number of people that may apply for asylum at border checkpoints.  Just 40-100 per day are allowed to apply at the San Ysidro border checkpoint.  This in spite of a finding by the DHS Inspector General that metering is having the effect of pushing people toward applying for asylum in between border checkpoints, exactly what Nielsen the the Chief claim they want to end.  Perceiving no other way to apply for protection after being denied an opportunity to apply for asylum at a border checkpoint, the DHS IG cited a woman they spoke to who decided to “take her chances on illegal entry” after being turned away three times at a border checkpoint.   

Ur Jaddou, Director of DHS Watch and former USCIS Chief Counsel, said:  “Now that serious congressional oversight is beginning on the inhumane Trump family separation policy, we have a window into how and why this outrageous policy was created and why it was so poorly and callously implemented.  It is becoming clearer that the Trump administration was much more concerned with prosecuting people seeking protection and failed to protect families, and particularly children, even infants, from detrimental and lasting harm.  Yet, no one has, as of today, been held accountable for the serious and long-term harm caused to thousands of children. We have to understand fully what happened and we need to take steps as a nation to make sure no one does this again.”