GOP senators push for clarification on migrant family separations

GOP senators push for clarification on migrant family separations
© Greg Nash

Republican senators Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeTrump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Live coverage: Trump delivers State of the Union Sasse’s jabs at Trump spark talk of primary challenger MORE (Ariz.) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsCongress must step up to protect Medicare home health care Business, conservative groups slam Trump’s national emergency declaration The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Trump escalates border fight with emergency declaration MORE (Maine) asked the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Saturday for clarification on the Trump administration's policy of separating migrant families apprehended at the southern border.

Flake and Collins sent DHS Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenTrump taps FEMA official to lead agency Unscripted Trump keeps audience guessing in Rose Garden The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the American Academy of HIV Medicine - Will there be any last-minute shutdown drama? MORE and HHS Secretary Alex Azar a letter asking for clarity on the administration's procedures and justifications for separating migrant children from their parents.

"We write regarding the safety and security of young children immigrating to the United States," the senators wrote. "Secretary Nielsen recently appeared before the U.S. Senate and testified that immigrant parents and children who present themselves at U.S. ports of entry to request asylum will not be separated. Despite Secretary Nielsen’s testimony, a number of media outlets have reported instances where parents and children seeking asylum at a port of entry have been separated."

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The two questioned whether deterrence was a motivation for separating migrant families and asked for details about DHS’s procedures for processing asylum applications from families.

Flake and Collins also requested information on procedures for keeping parents informed of their children's whereabouts and welfare, as well as training protocols for those processing, transporting or caring for detained children "to make the separation process less traumatic."

In a statement released Sunday announcing the co-signed letter, Flake wrote that protecting young children is a "longstanding priority" in the U.S. 

“Ensuring the safety and security of young children is a longstanding priority of the American legal system. In asylum cases, it is especially important to keep families together when neither the child nor the parent has violated any laws,” Flake wrote. “Contrary to what DHS has indicated as proper procedure, we are currently seeing cases where immigrant families seeking asylum are separated after lawfully presenting themselves at a U.S. port of entry."

Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the American Academy of HIV Medicine — Trump, Congress prepare for new border wall fight The Memo: Trump and McCabe go to war McCabe book: Sessions once said FBI was better off when it 'only hired Irishmen' MORE announced the Trump administration's “zero tolerance” policy last month, stating that federal agents would aggressively prosecute adults attempting to cross the U.S.–Mexico border illegally. The policy has led to thousands of separations as a result of adults having to be prosecuted separately.

Sessions, upon announcing the new policy, acknowledged it would likely lead to more family separations, but said it was meant to deter future immigrants from attempting to make the journey across Mexico to the U.S.

The practice has been widely denounced by Democrats and Republicans, though President Trump has sought to link the policy to Democratic lawmakers. Senate Democrats introduced legislation last week that seeks to eliminate the practice.