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 Gallego2020 Democrats raise alarm about China's intellectual property theft Harris picks up endorsement from influential lawmaker as support slips Democratic lawmaker: Russia, China benefitting from continued US troop presence in Afghanistan MORE (D-Ariz.), Nannette Barragán (D-Calif.), Adriano EspaillatAdriano de Jesus Espaillat CabralHouse Democrats blur lines on support for impeachment Congressional Hispanic Caucus calls for answers on Mississippi ICE raids Congressional Hispanic Caucus members call for diversity within the Fed 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.

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 NielsenKirstjen Nielsen drops out of Atlantic Media event after liberal backlash Pence taps former DHS spokeswoman as his new press secretary DHS officials called lawmaker visit to migrant detention facility a 'Hill stunt' 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.

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 RiceMarijuana industry donations to lawmakers surge in 2019: analysis Pelosi backers feel vindicated after tumultuous stretch Democrat offers measure to prevent lawmakers from sleeping in their offices 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.