WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley has led 48 U.S. Senators in calling on the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold hearings on the Trump administration’s treatment of children coming across the Southern border.
Following yesterday’s Trump Executive Order, new questions have been raised about whether the children who have already been separated will be reunited with their families, and how children will be treated going forward.
The Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy “is responsible for hundreds of children being forcibly separated from their families, falsely labeled ‘unaccompanied alien children,’ and transferred to the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement,” the Senators wrote in a letter to Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley. “This cruel treatment of children and families arriving to the United States demands immediate and direct Congressional oversight.”
In addition to Merkley, the letter was signed by Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Doug Jones (D-AL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Tina Smith (D-MN), Angus King (I-ME), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Patty Murray (D-WA), Tom Carper (D-DE), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Jack Reed (D-RI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Bob Casey (D-PA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tom Udall (D-NM), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Mark Warner (D-VA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Gary Peters (D-MI), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chris Coons (D-DE), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Jon Tester (D-MT), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Charles E. Schumer (D-NY).
The full letter is available here and below.
June 20, 2018
The Honorable Chuck Grassley
Senate Judiciary Committee
224 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Chairman Grassley,
I write to respectfully request an oversight hearing regarding the administration’s new “Zero Tolerance” family separation policy, announced by Attorney General Sessions on May 7, 2018. This policy is responsible for hundreds of children being forcibly separated from their families, falsely labeled “unaccompanied alien children” (UAC), and transferred to the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). This cruel treatment of children and families arriving to the United States demands immediate and direct Congressional oversight.
While limited media reports and Senate hearings have shed some light on the “Zero Tolerance” policy, the exact scope and impact remains unclear. For example, during a recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) official stated that between May 6, 2018 and May 19, 2018, 638 adults were referred for prosecution, who had a total of 658 children with them. According to another report, the Department of Health and Human Services identified 10,900 unaccompanied minors in its custody as of May 31, 2018, with 959 separated from family units since May 6, 2018. These snapshots provide some useful context, but the data largely fails to show how many children have been forced into UAC status over the entire time this policy has been in effect.
In addition to definitive accounting of the number of children rendered unaccompanied by the “Zero Tolerance” policy, the Senate must seek answers from the administration on the standards of care including staffing ratios, credentials for contractors, and background checks. How soon after separation from their parents are children granted access to comprehensive health care services, including trauma support and mental health services, and under what conditions are children permitted to communicate with their parents and attorneys?
These questions and many others must be promptly and thoroughly examined in order for the Senate to fulfil its duty to oversee the administration’s new “Zero Tolerance” Policy.
 Miroff, Nick. “Trump’s ‘zero Tolerance’ at the Border Is Causing Child Shelters to Fill up Fast.” The Washington Post. May 29, 2018.