House Judiciary chair demands info on family separation policy

House Judiciary chair demands info on family separation policy
© Screenshot/ABC News

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) is asking the Trump administration for information about its notorious “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which resulted in the separation of children from their parents at the southern border.

“There remain many unanswered questions about the development and execution of the Trump Administration's family separation or 'zero-tolerance' policy," Nadler wrote in letters released Monday.

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The letters are some of the first oversight efforts undertaken by the committee since Democrats took control of the House, and show just how much of a priority the family separation issue is for Democrats.

They were sent the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS), Justice and Homeland Security (DHS).

Nadler is demanding the agencies turn over any information and preserve records about the development and execution of the “zero tolerance” policy, migrant detention, and related policies on the border.

Nadler also wants HHS to answer questions about how the administration identified, tracked and reunited family members who were separated during the months the policy was being implemented.

The “zero tolerance” policy called for the criminal prosecution of all adult migrants who were detained after trying to cross the country’s southern border. Any children brought across the border were separated from their parents, deemed to be “unaccompanied,” and detained by HHS in separate facilities sometimes hundreds of miles from their parents.

The policy created a massive outcry, and the backlash forced the administration to walk it back just three months later. More than 2,600 children remained separated from their parents when a federal court had set a date for the administration to reunite them.  

The administration has spent more than $80 million in the past year to house, care for and reunite thousands of migrant children separated from their parents at the southern border as a result of the “zero tolerance” policy.

A government watchdog report released in October also found key government agencies were blindsided by the policy and had no plan in place to deal with the thousands of children who were separated from their parents.

In addition to “zero tolerance,” Nadler also noted the recent deaths in U.S. custody of two young Guatemalan migrant children, the first child deaths in Border Patrol Custody in a decade.

On December 8, Jakelin Caal Maquin, 7, died in a hospital two days after she was taken to a Border Patrol station.

And on Christmas Eve, 8-year-old Felipe Gómez Alonzo died after being hospitalized in New Mexico with flu-like symptoms, high fever and vomiting. He had been hospitalized, released and then returned to the hospital.

The deaths prompted changes in DHS policy, including having the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigate an uptick in “sick children” crossing the border, and “surge medical assistance” from other government agencies, such as HHS, the Department of Defense and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.