Brown, Portman, Ryan Take Stances Against Separation of Families

Brown, Portman, Ryan Take Stances Against Separation of Families

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As children continue to be separated from their parents after crossing the border of the Southern United States, members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives are making it clear that they want this practice to stop.

While Senate Republicans are urging President Donald Trump’s administration to cease the separation of families, Congressional Democrats have introduced legislation to make it happen. U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13 Ohio, along with 190 other Democrats introduced the Keep Families Together Act, H.R. 6135, in response to the president’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy.

At press time, 2,342 children have been separated from their parents since May, according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

“The Trump Administration’s decision to rip these families apart is just that, a decision, and it’s being enabled by a Republican-led Congress that supports this family separation policy,” Ryan said in a statement Wednesday. “We didn’t need to introduce this bill. The President can fix it today. If this Administration had an ounce of humanity, it would do the right thing and bring these families back together.”

If passed, the act would prohibit DHS officials from separating children from their parents, “except in extraordinary circumstances,” the release said. Such circumstances include if parental rights have been terminated, a child welfare agency has issued a best interest determination, or the port director or the chief border patrol agent of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have approved separation, due to trafficking indicators or other concerns of risk to the child.

In addition, the bill requires independent child welfare officials to review any such separation and return the child if no harm to the child is present, and imposes financial penalties on officials who violate the prohibition on family separation.

The bill includes limited criminal prosecution for asylum seekers by adopting the recommendation of the DHS Office of Inspector General. It seeks to delay prosecutions for illegal entry or re-entry for asylum seekers, creates an affirmative defense for asylum seekers and “codifies our commitment to the Refugee protocol prohibiting the criminal punishment of those seeking protection from persecution,” the release said.

Other aspects of the bill include increasing annual child welfare training to 90 minutes for all CBP officers and agents authorized to make decisions on family separation, establishing a public policy preference for family unity, discouraging the separation of siblings and creating a presumption that detention isn’t in the best interests of families and children.

It also requires the DHS to establish policies and procedures for family reunification that are made public and written in a language that parents can understand, as well as reporting on the separation of families every six months.

Reports from The Washington Post and National Public Radio found that trauma experienced by children forcibly taken from their parents at the border will likely lead to long-term effects on mental, emotional and physical health. Dr. Colleen Kraft, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and past medical director of the Health Network by Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, has gone as far as to describe the border police as “a form of child abuse” that can slow down brain development and inhibit language development and gross motor skills.

In response to reports that staff at border detention centers may be prohibited from comforting traumatized children, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, is demanding answers from the Department of Health and Human Services and the DHS. In a letter to the agencies, he is asking them to outline existing policies for caring for the mental, physical and emotional well being of the children.

“As Laura Bush wrote in The Washington Post, the policy is ‘immoral,’ and I ask that you cease this practice of separating children from their parents immediately,” Brown writes. “I implore you not just as a Senator, but as a father and grandfather – please take action to prevent any more children from suffering such trauma.”

Read the full text of Brown’s letter here.

Senate Republicans sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions calling on him to stop the practice of separating families who have illegally crossed the border. Led by U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, Utah, it was signed by Sens. Rob Portman, Ohio; John McCain, Arizona; Pat Roberts, Kansas; Susan Collins, Maine; Lisa Murkowski, Alaska; Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander, Tennessee; John Boozman, Arkansas; Dean Heller, Nevada; Cory Gardner, Colorado; James Lankford, Oklahoma; and Bill Cassidy, Louisiana.

“Although enforcing our immigration laws is an essential responsibility of the federal government, it must be done in a way that is consistent with our values and ordinary human decency,” Portman said in a release. “We support the administration’s efforts to enforce our immigration laws, but we cannot support implementation of a policy that results in the categorical forced separation of minor children from their parents.”

The full text of the letter reads:

Dear Mr. Attorney General:

Like millions of Americans, we have read with increasing alarm reports of children being separated from their parents at the southern border. Although enforcing our immigration laws is an essential responsibility of the federal government, it must be done in a way that is consistent with our values and ordinary human decency.

The current family separation crisis has multiple contributing causes, including court decisions that require release rather than detention of children but not parents who enter our country illegally. But the immediate cause of the crisis is your Department’s recent institution of a “zero tolerance” policy under which all adults who enter the United States illegally are referred for prosecution, regardless of whether they are accompanied by minor children.

We support the administration’s efforts to enforce our immigration laws, but we cannot support implementation of a policy that results in the categorical forced separation of minor children from their parents. We therefore ask you to work with the relevant Administration officials to stop the separation of families pursuant to the Department’s zero tolerance policy while Congress works out a solution that enables faster processing of individuals who enter our country illegally. We believe a reasonable path forward can be found that accommodates the need to enforce our laws while holding true to other, equally essential values.

For weeks, Portman has continued to oppose the administration’s policy of separating children from their parents, which he argues is counter to America’s values. The Ohio Senator believes the country can maintain strong border security without separating families; a practice that he says will increase the number of unaccompanied minors.

“Based on the extensive oversight I’ve conducted as Chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), we know that HHS and DHS are not prepared to effectively deal with even more unaccompanied minors,” Portman said.

“This policy is taking children from the love and care that parents provide and putting them at risk of trafficking, abuse and getting lost in the immigration system,” he continued. “I have taken the lead in exposing the inadequate practices at these agencies, practices that led to HHS turning several unaccompanied minors over to human traffickers under the previous administration. And I’ve taken the lead in pushing these agencies to put reforms in place that ensure unaccompanied minor children who come without parents are not trafficked or abused and make their court dates.”

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