Lawmakers banned from talking to detained migrant kids

Lawmakers banned from talking to detained migrant kids
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Lawmakers are now banned from speaking with migrant children who are held at detention centers after being separated from their parents, according to a new Department of Heath and Human Services (HHS) directive sent to congressional offices on Wednesday.

The email also states that lawmakers must give two weeks' notice before traveling to an immigrant detention center, and that they will be barred from entering if they do not give the advanced notice. An HHS spokesperson told The Hill that the policy requiring two weeks notice has been in place since 2015; however, several lawmakers were recently allowed into the centers without providing notice.

HuffPost first reported on the lawmakers being banned from speaking with children at detention centers.

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“To protect the privacy and vulnerability of children in its care, we cannot allow visitors to record or photograph anything within the facility property, nor are visitors allowed to interact with the children,” Sara Morse, HHS's deputy assistant secretary for legislation, stated in the email obtained by The Hill.

The department is allowing lawmakers to go on scheduled tours of certain facilities without providing two weeks' notice, but they must RSVP 24 hours ahead of the visit, the email reads.

Lawmakers have made several surprise visits to immigration detention centers in recent weeks, after the Trump administration implemented its "zero tolerance" policy that separates immigrant children from their parents upon the families' crossing into the U.S. illegally.

Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyDemocratic senator and top Trump immigration official argue over asylum claims on Twitter Senate Democrats push Trump to permanently shutter migrant detention facility Senate Dem seeks answers from DHS on reports of pregnant asylum seekers sent back to Mexico MORE (D-Ore.) first made headlines earlier this month when he attempted to tour a facility, but was unable to do so. He and other Democrats visited a center earlier this week to call attention to the facilities' conditions and to speak out against the policy.

Democratic lawmakers made a similar surprise visit to another immigration center housing migrant parents on Sunday, where they were eventually let in.

The Trump administration has faced overwhelming criticism for its policy of separating immigrant parents and children.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch To ward off recession, Trump should keep his mouth and smartphone shut Trump: 'Who is our bigger enemy,' Fed chief or Chinese leader? MORE, who has attempted to lay blame on Democrats for the practice, initially insisted that Congress must pass legislation to change the policy, but said Wednesday that he would sign an order to keep families together.

--Mike Lillis contributed to this report, which was updated at 1:13 p.m.