June 29, 2018

After Visit to Border, Warren Calls on HHS, DHS to Explain Process for Reuniting the Thousands of Families They Separated

Senator's Letter Details Chaos, Mistreatment at Texas Detention Center; Questions Administration on Urgent Need to Reunify Families

Washington, DC - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) today sent a letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alexander Azar and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen questioning them on the process that Administration officials claim to have put in place to reunify the families separated by President Trump's zero-tolerance policy. She also questioned their conflicting statements about the conditions in the facilities and the systems in place to reunite families. Senator Warren's questions follow her visit last Sunday to the McAllen Central Processing Center in McAllen, Texas, operated by Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and the Port Isabel Detention Center (Port Isabel) in Los Fresnos, Texas, operated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Senator Warren's letter describes the shocking stories she heard from the people detained in these facilities. Inside the McAllen Central Processing Center, Senator Warren saw men and women packed into cages who told her they had been detained for days - even though CBP officials insisted that no one was held for longer than 72 hours. At Port Isabel, Senator Warren saw hundreds of parents who had been separated from their children. The center was described by the Administration as "the primary family reunification and removal center for adults in their custody," but there were no children at this facility who were being reunited with their families. 

During her visit, Senator Warren repeatedly asked ICE and CBP officials if the government knew where the children who had been separated from their parents were, how families would be reunited, and how long would it take - but she got no clear answers. One mother at Port Isabel told Senator Warren that migrants were being asked to sign deportation papers to get their kids back.

"The ‘zero-tolerance' policy that tore these families apart was implemented with no plan whatsoever for how to bring them back together again," wrote Senator Warren.

According to a joint DHS and HHS press release on "Zero-Tolerance Prosecution and Family Reunification," the Administration maintains a central database to track separated parents and minors. Senator Warren asked whether HHS knows the current location of the minors and their parents and about steps HHS intends to take to reunify those families in cases where HHS does not have full information. She also asked for clarification on how parents can locate or communicate with a child in the custody of HHS. In addition, she sought answers on the timeline for reuniting all separated children with their parents or guardians.

"This is an urgent matter. Hundreds of children are separated from their families, suffering untold distress," wrote Senator Warren. "I ask you to provide answers to my questions no later than one week from today."