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.
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 DeGetteDeGette calls for 'lean and mean' health research agency to tackle diabetes The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - Democrats ask what went wrong on Election Day The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - Political earthquake rocks Virginia; New Jersey too close to call 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 PalloneLawmakers discussing potential compromise to revive drug pricing measure House Democrats announce bill to rein in tech algorithms House Democrats ramp up probe of FDA approval of Alzheimer's drug 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 WaldenEx-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm Ex-Rep. John Shimkus joins lobbying firm Lobbying world 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 SessionsPress: For Trump endorsement: The more sordid, the better Those predicting Facebook's demise are blowing smoke If bitcoin is 'digital gold,' it should be taxed like gold 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.