July 31, 2018

Feinstein Speaks on Family Separation Crisis

Washington—Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today delivered opening remarks on the family separation crisis. 

“We’re here today because the Trump administration has pursued what I believe is a deeply immoral and haphazard policy that fundamentally betrays American values. This administration has elected to engage in the systematic separation of immigrant children from their parents and without any plan to reunite them.

Even though we’re now months into this crisis, we still don’t know the official number of children who have been separated from their parents. I hope the administration officials present today finally outline the official total number of children separated, where they are, what the facilities are and where they are that they’re detained in, what the conditions are in those facilities and the location of their parents.

The little we have learned has come out of the case in the Southern District of California overseen by Judge Dana Sabraw. According to the joint court filing by the Department of Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union from last Friday: 2,551 children aged five to 17 were taken from their parents at some point. These children were required to be reunited by last Friday, July 26th and the government did not meet the deadline. Rather, only 1,442 of those children were reunited with their parents.

Twenty children the government thought they separated from their parent turned out [not] to have been unaccompanied from the outset; 431 children remain alone in the United States because their parent has already been deported. Shockingly, the government does not even know who or where the parents are for 94 children. This makes clear that the government did not track them in the first place. There was no effort to ensure the government knew which children belonged to which parents and where they were located.

Another 67 children were not reunified with their parent because of some ‘red flag’ in their background. However, we do not know whether this flag had anything to do with the safety of their child, an abuse or neglect allegation, or rather some other reason that may be irrelevant to separating the child from his parent. And these are only the children and families we know about.

The New York Times reported that the Trump administration may be pressuring people by ‘using kids as hostages to get people to give up their [asylum] claims,’ end quote. They take the children, and then tell the parents if they agree to deport on their own, ‘you can see your child at the airport’ and if not, ‘we will hold you for months; we don’t know when you will see your child.’

So it’s not an exaggeration to say that the policies of President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions may essentially orphan hundreds of immigrant children. In addition, the Washington Post reported over the weekend that Customs and Border Protection was so unprepared to grapple with this crisis that President Trump created that it called these separated families ‘deleted family units.’

When Customs and Border Patrol sent Health and Human Services information about these ‘deleted’ families, HHS had no way to track the children. In the end, 12,000 case files had to be sorted by hand to determine which children had been separated and which children arrived in the United States without their parents.

Even worse are the stories we heard about these separations and the bad conditions in which they were held. My staff visited a facility in California where children did not have sufficient food or water and were forced to sleep on a cold concrete floor, without a cot or blanket.

Unfortunately, despite the public outcry and the rebuke by the courts, the administration has demonstrated it can’t be trusted to put the welfare of children above its own hard-lined views on immigration. Therefore, we, the Congress, have a constitutional and a moral obligation to intervene.

I’ve been working with Senators Cruz, Tillis and Senator Durbin on a narrow bill that prohibits the separation of children from their families, requires an ongoing reporting by the administration and public reporting about what has occurred.

The bill would also provide additional judges, lawyers and resources to ensure that these families are treated humanely and not left—ignored—in facilities without proper sanitary conditions, food and water, or cots and blankets to sleep on. This bill is straightforward and limited to address the current crisis. I’m hopeful that we are close to an agreement and the bill could enjoy broad bipartisan support.

Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing. I hope the administration officials are ready today to give us the official figures on reunified children and how it plans to ensure that no further infringements occur on the constitutional rights of the parent and the child to be together.”