Trump administration creating family reunification task force: report

Trump administration creating family reunification task force: report
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The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) created a task force on Friday to reunify migrant families separated under the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" immigration policy, according to an internal document.

The HHS document, obtained by Politico, outlines an "unaccompanied children reunification task force" under the guidance of the department's assistant secretary for preparedness and response. The move indicates that the required response is too much for the agency's refugee resettlement office to handle, Politico reported.

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"The Secretary of Health and Human Services has directed the Assistant Secretary of Preparedness and Response assist the ACF Office of Refugee Resettlement with Unaccompanied Children Reunification," the order reads, according to the news outlet.

A spokeswoman for HHS told The Hill in an email Saturday that HHS Secretary Alex Azar had tasked the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response with managing the reunification effort, while the Office of Refugee Resettlement remained in control of migrant children apprehended without a legal guardian.

"Secretary Azar is bringing to bear all the relevant resources of the department in order to assist in the reunification or placement of unaccompanied alien children and teenagers with a parent or appropriate sponsor," Evelyn Stauffer told The Hill.

"The Secretary has tasked the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response with applying their operational and logistical expertise in addressing this complex effort. The Office of Refugee Resettlement continues to oversee and manage the Unaccompanied Alien Children Program.”

The news comes shortly after reports that the Trump administration was finalizing a plan to reunite migrant children in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection with their parents.

Under the Trump administration's so-called zero tolerance policy, more than 2,000 migrant children were separated from their parents between April and May after being apprehended for crossing into the U.S. illegally. The policy, announced in April, seeks to aggressively prosecute those entering the U.S. illegally across the U.S.–Mexico border.

Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard Sessions5 takeaways from Barr’s testimony AG pick Barr emphasizes independence from Trump Hillicon Valley: Trump AG pick signals new scrutiny on tech giants | Wireless providers in new privacy storm | SEC brings charges in agency hack | Facebook to invest 0M in local news MORE, who announced the policy, acknowledged that such prosecutions could lead to family separations.

"If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child may be separated from you as required by law,” Sessions said in May.

A top HHS official confirmed Tuesday that the government expected the policy to act as a deterrent. 

Sessions, on Thursday, walked back his earlier assertions that the Trump administration expected such separations to happen.

“It hasn’t been good and the American people don’t like the idea that we are separating families,” Sessions said on CBN News. “We never really intended to do that. What we intended to do, was to make sure that adults who bring children into the country are charged with the crime they have committed.”

The practice drew widespread condemnation from Democrats and Republicans for separating parents from their children, often as parents awaited court dates in separate detention facilities across the U.S.

Facing growing bipartisan pressure for his administration's policy, Trump, in a rare reversal, issued an executive order on Wednesday to stop migrant family separations. The order still seeks to prosecute individuals who cross into the U.S. illegally, but maintains that families are to be detained together.

The order does not address the futures of the more than 2,000 families that have already been separated.

--Updated June 23 at 10:57 a.m.