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Nadler Introduces Keep Families Together Act and Sends Letters to DHS, DOJ, and HHS Demanding Answers Regarding Family Separation Policy

Jan 14, 2019

Washington, D.C. – In response to the latest tragic deaths in U.S. custody of young migrant children and the Trump Administration’s continued refusal to rule out reinstituting the family separation policy, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) announced today that he has sent letters to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Nielsen, Department of Justice (DOJ) Acting Attorney General Whitaker, and Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Azar regarding the turning over of any information and preservation of records for the many unanswered questions about the development and execution of the “zero tolerance” policy, migrant detention, and related policies on the border. Without answers or any guarantee that President Trump would not reinstitute this cruel and inhumane policy again, Chairman Nadler also announced, along with Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Ted W. Lieu (D-CA), Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), and 184 additional co-sponsors, the re-introduction of the Keep Families Together Act of 2019 to prohibit DHS officials from separating children from their parents and to institute safeguards to protect and promote the legal rights, health and wellness of asylum seekers, children, and their families.

“As this new Congress begins, the House Judiciary Committee will make good on its promise to the American people to hold the Trump Administration accountable for the abhorrent family separation policy that ripped children from the arms of their parents,” said Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY).  “These document requests, many of them sought for months, are just the start. We have already put the relevant agencies on notice that in the coming weeks we will schedule hearings in order to finally hold the Administration accountable for its policies and conduct. We take seriously our responsibility to conduct meaningful and fair oversight, and stand ready to act with Keep Families Together Act of 2019 if the Administration ever attempts this policy again.”

Background on the Keep Families Together Act of 2019:

  • Keep Families Together:  The bill promotes family unity by prohibiting DHS officials from separating children from their parents, except in extraordinary circumstances.  In these limited circumstances, separation could not occur unless 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.  It requires an independent child welfare official to review any such separation and return the child if no harm to the child is present. It imposes financial penalties on officials who violate the prohibition on family separation.
  • Limit Criminal Prosecutions for Asylum Seekers: The majority of the parents separated at the border are being criminally prosecuted for illegal entry or re-entry.  This bill restricts the prosecution of parents who are asylum seekers by adopting the recommendation of the DHS Office of Inspector General.  The bill delays prosecutions for asylum seekers and creates an affirmative defense for asylum seekers.  It also codifies our commitment to the Refugee protocol prohibiting the criminal punishment of those seeking protection from persecution.
  • Increase Child Welfare Training: The bill requires all CBP officers and agents to complete child welfare training on an annual basis.  Port Directors and Chief Border Agents, those who are authorized to make decisions on family separations, must complete an additional 90 minutes of annual child-welfare training.
  • Establish Public Policy Preference for Family Reunification: The bill establishes a preference for family unity, discourages the separation of siblings, and creates a presumption that detention is not in the best interests of families and children.
  • Add Procedures for Separated Families: The bill requires DHS to develop policies and procedures allowing parents and children to locate each other and reunite if they have been separated.   Such procedures must be public and made available in a language that parents can understand.  In cases of separation, it requires DHS to provide parents with weekly reports about their children and regular communication.
  • Establish Other Required Measures:  To inform Congressional oversight and promote public understanding, the bill requires a report on the separation of families every six months.

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116th Congress