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Hispanic Dems ask for multi-agency meeting on family separations

Hispanic Dems ask for multi-agency meeting on family separations
© Stefani Reynolds

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) asked the Trump administration Friday for a meeting with all agency heads who have a say in immigration policies that resulted in family separations.

In a letter reviewed by The Hill, Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas), the CHC's chairman, along with Reps. Ruben GallegoRuben GallegoLegal marijuana backers tout potential money for states Leadership matters: President's words and actions show he is unfit to lead our nation Overnight Defense: Pentagon IG to audit use of COVID-19 funds on contractors | Dems optimistic on blocking Trump's Germany withdrawal | Obama slams Trump on foreign policy MORE (D-Ariz.), Nannette Barragán (D-Calif.), Adriano EspaillatAdriano de Jesus Espaillat CabralLawmakers call for small business aid at all levels of government The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Washington on edge amid SCOTUS vacancy On the Money: Administration to ban TikTok, WeChat | House moves toward bill to avoid government shutdown | Coronavirus relief bills boosted GDP, CBO says MORE (D-N.Y.) and Verónica Escobar (D-Texas), complained that the different agencies involved have painted incompatible pictures of how family separations are carried out and immigrant children are cared for by the government.

"As we have met with officials independently from several of your agencies, we have noticed that while the agencies have some answers to our questions, there is a lack of a clear, comprehensive and complete examination of how [the Department of Homeland Security], [the Department of Health and Human Services] and [the Department of Justice] coordinated to carry out the Trump administration’s family separation policy," wrote the CHC leaders.

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To get a clearer picture of how the administration deals with immigrant minors in its custody, CHC leadership requested its members meet in a room with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenWatchdog finds top DOJ officials were 'driving force' behind Trump's child separation policy: NYT More than million in DHS contracts awarded to firm of acting secretary's wife: report DHS IG won't investigate after watchdog said Wolf, Cuccinelli appointments violated law MORE, Attorney General William Barr, Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan, Immigration and Customs Enforcement acting Director Ronald Vitiello and Office of Refugee Resettlement Acting Director Jonathan Hayes, the recipients of the letter.

"We know scheduling a multi-agency meeting can be a challenge but we look forward to working with you to schedule this important meeting," wrote the CHC heads.

The multi-agency meeting, say the Democrats, would serve to elucidate explicit timelines and custodial arrangements of immigration enforcement-related separations, which they say are unclear because of inconsistencies between the narratives coming from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Justice Department and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The request was prompted by a meeting in February between HHS officials and Hispanic Caucus members, including Hayes.

After that meeting, CHC attendees remarked on the tonal and substantive differences they perceived from prior meetings on the same issues with DHS officials.

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And in congressional testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee earlier this month, Nielsen butted heads with Democrats about immigrant detention — particularly of children — and family separations.

The administration denies having an explicit family separation policy, saying the Justice Department's "zero tolerance" policy for adults crossing the border illegally forced the hand of law enforcement officials to separate family units crossing the border illegally in order to prosecute the adults.

Nielsen defended that point but refused to directly answer Rep. Kathleen RiceKathleen Maura RiceHillicon Valley: Simulated cyberattack success | New bill for election security funding | Amazon could be liable for defective products Lawmakers introduce bill to help election officials address cyber vulnerabilities House lawmakers to launch probe into DHS excluding NY from Trusted Traveler Program MORE (D-N.Y.) on whether the separations were meant as a deterrent to future crossings.

In 2017, then-Homeland Security Secretary John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE told CNN the separations were meant partly as a deterrent.

The CHC said in its letter it wants the multi-agency meeting now because a March 8 ruling by a California judge makes the administration legally responsible for the wellbeing of all children involved in family separations.

CHC leaders said the meeting would help them get a better idea of how the various agencies are coordinating to care for children in custody, but also to have an accurate count of how many children were involved in the program in general and whether any children were lost in the process.

"Many questions remain on this failed and cruel policy and it now appears that given this most recent ruling, DHS and HHS will once again need to work with nonprofit groups to help locate and identify possibly thousands of additional separated children," CHC leaders wrote.