June 12, 2019

Feinstein to DHS: Separating Children From Parents is Inhumane, Must End

 Washington—Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today wrote a letter to Acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan seeking information on the administration’s separation of migrant families and the conditions in which children and adults are held.

            The letter follows up on questions Senator Feinstein asked McAleenan yesterday during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

            “It has now been reported that the original number of children separated from their parents was underreported by the administration – and the total has more than doubled. Separating children from their parents is inhumane and must stop,” wrote Senator Feinstein.

            “In addition, the DHS Inspector General found last week that ICE has repeatedly violated its own detention standards, which ‘shows disregard for detainee health and safety.’ The IG concluded that conditions in the New Jersey and California facilities were so unsanitary that they posed health risks to detainees.

            “The administration must ensure that children are only held in safe facilities, and that appropriate medical staffing is available.”

            Full text of the letter follows:

June 12, 2019

The Honorable Kevin McAleenan
Acting Secretary
United States Department of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C. 20528

Dear Acting Secretary McAleenan:

            I appreciate your testimony yesterday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and commitment to provide information. As we discussed, I am very concerned about the number of children who were impacted by the Administration's policy to separate families and the conditions in detention facilities where children and families are being held. I am writing to follow up on my questions and ask for the answers to the following:

  • What is the total number of children separated from their parents at the border before and after June 26, 2018?
  • What were the conditions where Wilmer Ramirez was detained after he and his mother crossed the border? Specifically, was Wilmer Ramirez ever detained outdoors? Was he under a bridge in El Paso?
  • You testified there are 200 medical professionals providing medical screenings at the border. Where are they located? Specifically, how many medical professionals are at each Border Patrol station and port-of-entry? How many are doctors? Nurses? Other? What kind of medical training do they have?
  • How many of the 200 medical professionals are specifically trained in pediatric care? What kind of training do they have?
  • How frequently does DHS conduct reviews of conditions at ICE detention facilities? What are the requirements for these reviews? When was the last review? What steps have been taken since that review to address problems?

            As we discussed, June 26 will be the one-year anniversary of the court order requiring reunification of the families who were separated under the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy last year. It has now been reported that the original number of children separated from their parents was underreported by the Administration – and the total has more than doubled. Separating children from their parents is inhumane and must stop.

            In addition, the DHS Inspector General found last week that ICE has repeatedly violated its own detention standards, which “shows disregard for detainee health and safety.” Specifically, the IG found serious food storage problems across the country, including chicken packets open and leaking in a refrigerator, and moldy food on kitchen surfaces. The IG concluded that conditions in the New Jersey and California facilities were so unsanitary that they posed health risks to detainees.

            Finally, six children have died in immigration custody or shortly after release this year alone. For example, last December, two children ages seven and eight died in the custody of Border Patrol; a sixteen-year-old boy died in Border Patrol custody in May; and also in May, two-year-old Wilmer Ramirez died shortly after release from Border Patrol. Children cannot be allowed to die in custody. The Administration must ensure that children are only held in safe facilities, and that appropriate medical staffing is available.

            I appreciate your consideration and your prompt response to the questions.

Sincerely,

Dianne Feinstein
United States Senator

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