October 18, 2018

Warren, Wyden Question Misleading HHS Statements on Child Separation Database

DHS OIG Report on Family Separations Under Zero-Tolerance Policy Contradicts Agency Statements

Text of the Letter (PDF)

Washington, DC - United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee, today announced a letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar seeking answers on whether HHS misled Congress and the public about the implementation of President Trump's "zero tolerance" policy and the agency's ability to track separated parents and children.

Earlier this month, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) released a report concluding, among other troubling findings, that the Administration "was not fully prepared" to implement the "zero-tolerance" policy and struggled to deal with its aftermath. The report also revealed that Administration officials may have provided inaccurate or misleading information about how DHS and HHS kept track of separated families and children, and their ability to reunite them.

"We were, and continue to be, appalled by the Administration's cruel policy of family separation, and disturbed by the possibility that your agency provided inaccurate or misleading information to Congress and to the American public on the Administration's ability to locate and track these children," the senators wrote.

In their letter, Senators Warren and Wyden expressed concern about the accuracy of a DHS/HHS factsheet claiming the agencies had a central database containing location information for separated children and parents that both departments could access and update. The OIG report "found no evidence that such a database exists." 

The senators also underscored that testimony provided by Secretary Azar to Congress appeared to contradict the OIG's findings that HHS and DHS had not created a "central database" to match separated children and their parents and questioned whether Secretary Azar misled Congress when he testified regarding an HHS portal that could locate the separated children of detained parents.

To address this matter, the senators asked Secretary Azar a series of questions to clarify these contradictions and requested a response by November 2, 2018.