Trump health official says agency would never have supported family separations

Trump health official says agency would never have supported family separations
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A top Trump administration health official on Thursday told lawmakers neither he nor anyone at his agency responsible for migrant children would ever have supported a policy to force family separations.

“Neither I nor any career person ... would ever have supported such a policy proposal,” Jonathan White, a commander in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, said during a House subcommittee hearing.

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White, who is in charge of reunifying separated children with their families, told lawmakers he raised concerns with his superiors months before an official policy was implemented.

He said family separation would be inconsistent with the agency’s legal requirement to act in the best interests of children.

White said he was kept in the dark about the administration’s intent and would never have supported a policy to separate families.

White's appearance before the House Energy and Commerce oversight subcommittee was the first of what is likely to be many hearings, as Democrats investigate the Trump administration's policy to separate thousands of children from their parents or guardians.

House Democrats during the hearing blasted the administration for its “zero tolerance” policy along the southern border.

Democrats accused the administration of cruel and inhumane acts and faulted health officials for not opposing the policy.

Subcommittee chairwoman Diana DeGetteDiana Louise DeGetteAnti-smoking advocates question industry motives for backing higher purchasing age House Democrats probe Trump administration's funding of anti-abortion group Dems push back on White House suggesting they're 'not smart enough' for Trump's tax returns MORE (D-Colo.) said even though the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) did not separate children, “there is no evidence that HHS leaders ever tried to stop this abhorrent policy.”

“The policy itself was inhumane on a fundamental level,” said Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneAnti-smoking advocates question industry motives for backing higher purchasing age Overnight Health Care: DOJ charges doctors over illegal opioid prescriptions | Cummings accuses GOP of obstructing drug pricing probe | Sanders courts Republican voters with 'Medicare for All' | Dems probe funding of anti-abortion group House Democrats probe Trump administration's funding of anti-abortion group MORE (D-N.J.).  “Family separations can never be done humanely.”

Committee Republicans also stressed their opposition to family separations.

“While I support strong enforcement of our nation’s borders, I want to make something very clear — I support keeping families together, and strongly believe that children should not be separated from their parents,” said the committee’s top Republican, Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenConservative groups defend tech from GOP crackdown Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Sanders unveils new Medicare for all bill with backing from other 2020 Dems | White House slams Sanders' rollout | Drugmakers, 'middlemen' point fingers on insulin pricing House votes to reinstate Obama-era net neutrality rules MORE (Ore.).

The hearing comes after a report from the HHS inspector general that found the Trump administration separated thousands more migrant children from their parents than was previously known. Those separations occurred before the “zero tolerance” policy was implemented.

The policy from then-Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsThe Memo: Mueller's depictions will fuel Trump angst Collins: Mueller report includes 'an unflattering portrayal' of Trump Trump frustrated with aides who talked to Mueller MORE 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 the HHS refugee office in facilities sometimes hundreds of miles from their parents.

The policy, publicly announced in April, created a massive outcry, and the backlash forced the administration to walk it back three months later.

More than 2,600 children remained separated from their parents when a federal court ordered the administration to reunite them. The policy was reportedly written to deter border crossings.

HHS Secretary Alex Azar declined to testify at the hearing.