July 11, 2018

Feinstein, Durbin, Wyden, Murray Call Out Glaring Inaccuracies in HHS Secretary's Testimony on Family Separation

Washington – Today, Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) sent a letter to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar questioning the truthfulness of testimony he gave to the Senate Finance Committee regarding HHS’care of children removed from their parents by the Trump Administration’s “zero tolerance” child separation policy. The senators requested he return to Congress to clarify possibly inaccurate or misleading statements.

On June 26, Azar testified that, “there is no reason why any parent would not know where their child is located,” and that HHS has 2,047 separated children in its custody. However, just one week later, Azar stated in a conference call with reporters that there were up to 3,000 children in custody, seemingly contradicting his testimony before Congress. Media reports indicate that many parents of separated children still do not know where their children are, and that their attempts to contact them have been unsuccessful.  

“Since the Trump Administration enacted this policy, we have made numerous inquiries seeking simple facts about the number and location of separated children in HHS custody, the physical and mental health care provided to separated children, the conditions and plans for reunifying them with their parents, and HHS policies and procedures. We have received very little, and at times conflicting, information from the Trump Administration,” the senators wrote. "These inconsistent answers and the continued lack of a clear plan for the care and reunification of separated children show a glaring lack of leadership.”  

Furthermore, the senators expressed deep concern with the poor leadership of Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) Director Scott Lloyd and urged Azar to remove him from his position. The senators note that Lloyd has virtually no background in refugee resettlement, has not made a single public statement regarding the child separation crisis, and has demonstrated troubling misconduct with respect to the reproductive health rights of young migrant women and girls. 

"Accordingly, we urge you to replace Scott Lloyd with a capable and experienced director or acting director and return to Congress as soon as possible to accurately and comprehensively describe HHS’ process for serving separated children and their families,” the senators concluded. 

Full text of today’s letter is available here and below:

 

July 11, 2018

The Honorable Alex M. Azar II
Secretary
Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20201

Dear Secretary Azar:

We write today to express our deep concern over the matter of your testimony before the Senate Committee on Finance on June 26, 2018, and to urge you to clarify basic information regarding your Department’s care of children separated from their parents under the Trump Administration’s family separation policy. 

As a result of President Trump’s family separation policy, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) has taken custody of thousands of children who have been removed from their parents at the Southern border.  We are alarmed by the serious and potentially irreparable harm inflicted on these children and their parents due to the family separation policy.  Since the Trump Administration enacted this policy, we have made numerous inquiries seeking simple facts about the number and location of separated children in HHS custody, the physical and mental health care provided to separated children, the conditions and plans for reunifying them with their parents, and HHS policies and procedures moving forward.  We have received very little, and at times conflicting, information from the Trump Administration.  We were therefore eager to hear from you publicly about HHS’ activities.          

On June 26, 2018, you testified before the Senate Committee on Finance, during which time you made statements regarding HHS’ activities under the Trump Administration’s family separation policy that conflict with subsequent information shared with Congress and the general public.  You testified that, “every parent has access to know where their child is,” and, regarding the location of a separated child, “that information is available to every parent.”  You further testified that “there is no reason why any parent would not know where their child is located,” and that “we now have 2,047” separated children in HHS custody.             

However, according to a July 2, 2018, Politico article, following your testimony you “called for volunteers to review the case files of each of the roughly 11,900 children in custody to determine whether HHS missed any who had been separated from adults at the border,” suggesting that you were uncertain about the statements you made to the Finance Committee.  Indeed, on July 5, 2018, you stated on a conference call with reporters that up to “3,000” – not 2,047 – separated children are in HHS custody.  Moreover, as documented in numerous reports from media outlets, immigration advocates, and attorneys, many parents of separated children still do not know where their children are, and their attempts to contact them have been unsuccessful. 

These inconsistent answers and the continued lack of a clear plan for the care and reunification of separated children show a glaring lack of leadership.  Given your assurances during the Finance Committee hearing that you are doing everything possible to address these concerns, we are disturbed that ORR continues to be led by Scott Lloyd.  We have no confidence in the leadership of Mr. Lloyd, who has little to no background in refugee resettlement, has not made a single public statement regarding this crisis under his leadership, and is instead known as an anti-abortion crusader.  

The public, international community, and separated families in particular deserve a clear and humanitarian plan, competent leadership, truthful answers, and an accurate understanding of what your Department is doing to care for and reunify children separated from their families. Accordingly, we urge you to replace Scott Lloyd with a capable and experienced director or acting director and return to Congress as soon as possible to accurately and comprehensively describe HHS’ process for serving separated children and their families.  

Sincerely,

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