Letter to the Hon. Jeff Sessions, US Attorney General, the Hon. Alex Azar, Secretary of Health and Human Services, and the Hon. Kirstjen Nielsen, Secretary of Homeland Security - Keeping Families Together at Border
Dear Attorney General Sessions, Secretary Nielsen, and Secretary Azar:
We are writing today regarding our concern about the safety and the security of families with children immigrating to the United States. We are concerned about the separation of immigrant families in light of the Justice Department's recently announced "zero tolerance" policy for all immigrants crossing our borders illegally.
We support the defense of our nation's borders and all who work to keep us safe. Yet, we are concerned that policies allowing the separation of families are in direct conflict with America's humanitarian responsibility and our nation's history of protecting those seeking safety.
In light of troubling stories, we seek clarification on the guidance you use as you each carry out your duties encountering and processing immigrants crossing the U.S. border. While there may be rare instances which justify federal enforcement to separate a parent from their child, we seek clarification on how this Administration makes those determinations, and any statutory reforms that Congress must provide to ensure no family is needlessly separated. Specifically we request responses to the following questions:
1. How many children have been separated from their parents while crossing the U.S. border in the past five years, each year, crossing both;
a. illegally to gain entrance and,
b. in seeking asylum at legal ports of entry?
2. When encountering a family unit (at least one parent traveling with a child) how are your agencies processing those encounters under the following circumstances:
a. At a legal U.S. port of entry?
b. If apprehended crossing the border at locations other than ports of entry?
3. What agency guidance or statute has been used to justify separations for illegal entry and for those seeking asylum?
4. If a parent is separated from their child for any period of time, either during processing or in temporary detention:
a. What procedures are followed to ensure parents are made aware of the welfare of a child in HHS custody?
b. What procedures are followed to assist and expedite family reunification following any separation period?
c. How are your respective agencies coordinating your responsibilities between DOJ, DHS, and HHS to ensure the timely and safe reunification of families?
5. What specific training is offered to DOJ, DHS and HHS personnel to ensure the well-being for children is prioritized and maintained throughout any processing or separation period?
6. Given the increase of concern over family separation, what actions are your agencies taking to ensure there is no confusion among personnel processing families crossing our border?
7. Do your respective agencies require additional statutory authority to ensure no family is separated needlessly when entering the country?
8. Given President Trump's executive order in response to family separation, please provide information on how that executive order;
a. Will be interpreted by your agencies?
b. How does this order change your current procedures?
c. How will your agencies implement this policy change to ensure no family is needlessly separated?
We believe there is nothing more important than family, and especially in protecting the well-being of children. We look forward to your prompt and complete response. As Congress continues to work for permanent reform, it is critical we have an understanding of how your agencies interpret their authority and implement the laws of our nation.