Washington—Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and 41 colleagues have introduced legislation to keep immigrant families together by preventing the Department of Homeland Security from taking children from their parents at the border.
The Keep Families Together Act was developed in consultation with child welfare experts to ensure the federal government is acting in the best interest of children. The bill allows immigrant children to be separated from their parents only in the event they are being trafficked or abused by their parents. To provide an additional layer of protection, the bill provides for an immediate review by a superior upon the recommendation to separate, and only after consultation with a child welfare expert.
“The HHS inspector general recently concluded that the horrors caused by family separation are far greater than previously known, with potentially thousands more children taken from their parents than estimated. Children were separated from their parents nearly a year before Congress became aware of the issue, and children taken from their parents continue to be discovered by our government,” said Senator Feinstein. “Simply put, the family separation crisis is not over, and Congress has a moral obligation to act. We need to make sure the ongoing tragedy caused by the Trump administration never repeats itself.”
On May 7, 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that all adults who arrive at the border would be prosecuted for illegal entry, even if they attempt to seek asylum. This policy, which had never before been pursued, has resulted in parents being separated from their children. Prosecuting individuals who are seeking asylum may also violate U.S. obligations under international law, including the U.N. Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.
Litigation in the Southern District of California challenging the policy revealed that 2,737 children were separated from their parents and detained in the custody of Health and Human Services as of June 26, 2018.
However, a report by the Health and Human Services inspector general released earlier this month concludes that thousands more children may have been separated from their children prior to June 26. Given that the Trump administration never implemented a system to track children separated from their parents, contrary to public statements, it was not possible for the IG to give a precise number. Further, the IG discovered that hundreds of children were separated from their parents after the court issued its order barring separations.
In addition to Senator Feinstein, the bill is cosponsored by 41 senators including Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Angus King (I-Maine), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-Nev.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.).