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 FlakeFlake urges Republicans to condemn 'vile and offensive' Trump tweets Flake responds to Trump, Jimmy Carter barbs: 'We need to stop trying to disqualify each other' Jeff Flake responds to Trump's 'greener pastures' dig on former GOP lawmakers MORE (Ariz.) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTrump angry more Republicans haven't defended his tweets: report Republicans scramble to contain Trump fallout The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump digs in ahead of House vote to condemn tweet 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 Nielsen Trump's family separation policy has taken US to 'lowest depth possible,' says former immigration lawyer Four heated moments from House hearing on conditions at border facilities Chuck Todd on administration vacancies: 'Is this any way to run a government?' 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 SessionsTrump's no racist; he's an equal opportunity offender Press: Acosta, latest to walk the plank The Hill's Morning Report — Trump retreats on census citizenship question 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.